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Lockout remains after court ruling

MINNEAPOLIS — The NFL has won another round in the court fight with its players.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday decided that the league's lockout of players should stay in place until a full appeal is heard on whether it is legal, which means until at least the first week of June and possibly much longer.

The 2-1 decision mirrored the panel's earlier decision granting a temporary stay, including a lengthy dissent from the same judge.

The appellate court said it believed the NFL has proven it will "likely will suffer some degree of irreparable harm without a stay." It also cast doubt on the conclusions of U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who ruled April 25 that the lockout should be lifted — only to have the same 8th Circuit panel put her decision on hold four days later.

"In sum, we have serious doubts that the district court had jurisdiction to enjoin the league's lockout, and accordingly conclude that the league has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits," the majority wrote.

A June 3 hearing is scheduled to hear arguments on the legality of the lockout.

The decision came on the same day that NFL owners and their locked-out players resumed court-ordered mediation behind closed doors. It was the fifth day of talks in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, but the first since April 20.

Hall of Famer Carl Eller, representing retired players in their joint antitrust lawsuit against the league with the current players, said as he left the courthouse that his side was waiting on a proposal from the owners. He said he was prepared to return later Monday night if significant progress was made.

"It's been a long day, and we're still working on it," Eller said at the seven-hour mark of the fifth day of court-ordered mediation in Boylan's chambers.

A new collective bargaining agreement or guarantees of a full 2011 season seemed unlikely, however.

"We'd like to make progress, but it'll be hard to do. We have to wait to see what happens June 3," Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II said on his way into the federal courthouse here.

The 8th Circuit's decision had been anxiously anticipated and even though it kept the lockout in place — in effect, leaving situation between the NFL and its players unchanged — it is a potential signal of how the two sides will fare once the full appeal is heard.

Judges Steven Colloton and Duane Benton sided with the NFL while Judge Kermit Bye again dissented in favor of the players.

"The district court reasoned that this case does not involve or grow out of a labor dispute because the players no longer are represented by a union," the majority wrote. "We have considerable doubt about this interpretation ... (the Norris-La Guardia Act) does not specify that the employees must be members of a union for the case to involve or grow out of a labor dispute."