LOS ANGLES (CN) - Parents to the late New York Ranger Derek Boogaard missed the deadline to sue over the millions left on their son's contract, a federal judge ruled.
With more than 250 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame, Boogaard was a hockey enforcer celebrated more for his fighting skills than his skating ability.
By the time Boogaard had signed a $6.5 million, four-year contract with the New York Rangers in July 2010, the Canadian-born athlete had a powerful addiction to narcotics and sleeping pills.
The 28-year-old died of an overdose in his Minneapolis apartment on May 12, 2011.
An autopsy later showed that Boogaard suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a kind of dementia that affects individuals who have sustained repeated concussions.
For friends and family, the diagnosis confirmed the dramatic change they had observed in Boogaard's once sweet and easy manner. A New York Times series titled "Punched Out," released in December 2011, describes how Boogaard spent the last year of his life sullen, manic and lonely, plagued by constant headaches and memory lapses.
In a September 2012 complaint
, Len and Joanne Boogaard claimed that team doctors had gotten their son hooked on the drugs that eventually killed him.
They said that Roman Stoykewych, the head labor attorney for the National Hockey League Players Association, advised them about compensation from their son's Rangers contract.
Though Boogaard's parents learned that pay disputes with a club must go through a grievance procedure, they claimed that the players union failed to file the grievance within 60 days, as required by a collective bargaining agreement.
Because they were not aware of the time limit, the parents claimed they missed out on the $4.8 million left in their late son's contract with the Rangers.
U.S. District Judge Otis Wright concluded last week, however, that the couple filed their complaint three months after the statute of limitations had expired.
"By contending that they lacked counsel, were ignorant of the filing period, and were affirmatively led away from the DFR claim by Stoykewych's advice, plaintiffs essentially concede that they did not pursue their rights diligently," Wright wrote, abbreviating duty of fair representation.
Wright called the couple's "quest for an attorney lackluster at best," and similarly chided their "weak" attempt to show diligence.
"Though plaintiffs were unable to retain either of the two attorneys NHLPA [ National Hockey League Players Association] recommended, plaintiffs took over seven months to finally retain an attorney," the nine-page ruling states. "This drawn-out attorney search suggests plaintiffs did not act diligently. Other than this, plaintiffs state no facts supporting their assertion that they acted diligently during the relevant period."
Since the Boogaards retained counsel, they had "constructive knowledge of the six-month statute of limitations," the court found.
Furthermore, no "extraordinary circumstances" existed because lawyers for the Boogards could have filed suit against the players union on their behalf, Wright said.
The judge also found that Stoykewych represented only the union, and did not have an attorney-client relationship with Boogaard's parents.
"Stoykewych was at all times, on behalf of the NHLPA, evaluating a potential grievance against the New York Rangers for failing to pay Boogaard's remaining contract," Wright wrote. "An attorney handling a grievance on behalf of a union does not enter into an attorney-client relationship with the member asserting the underlying grievance; their client is the union. And even if plaintiffs initially believed that Stoykewych was acting on their behalf, they could not rest on that assumption forever. When Stoykewych informed them that NHLPA decided not to pursue a grievance, plaintiffs should have known then that Stoykewych was no longer representing their interests (if he did at all)." (Parentheses in original.)
After granting summary judgment to the NHL Players Association and Stoykewych,
Wright ruled as moot a motion to withdraw by the Boogaards' attorney, Howard Silber of Westlake, Calif.
The NHL Players Association declined to comment, and Silber did not return an inquiry from Courthouse News Service.