By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday refused to order the National Football League to consider replaying the conference title game where the Los Angeles Rams defeated the New Orleans Saints and gained entry to the Super Bowl after a critical missed call by officials.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan in New Orleans said Saints season ticket holders who sued over the game could not compel Commissioner Roger Goodell to enforce NFL rules letting him order a game's replaying or rescheduling after an "extraordinarily unfair" act.
The decision is a fresh setback for embittered Saints fans, likely scuttling their long-shot effort to undo the Rams' 26-23 overtime victory on Jan. 20 in the National Football Conference championship.
Morgan ruled on an expedited basis, with the Rams set to oppose the New England Patriots in Sunday's Super Bowl.
Frank D'Amico, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said in a statement Morgan did not rule on Goodell's authority to act, and the NFL's inaction denied his clients a chance to buy Super Bowl tickets at face value.
"It is our intention to pursue those rights," D'Amico said.
Lawyers for the NFL and Goodell did not respond to requests for comment. The NFL has said it knew of no replayed games in its 99-year history, "despite war, depression, natural disasters, civil disorder, terrorism, or pandemic."
The Saints lost a chance to beat the Rams in regulation when officials failed to call pass interference or helmet penalties on a Rams cornerback who leveled a Saints receiver with less than two minutes to play, and the score tied.
Goodell told reporters on Wednesday that the league understood fans' frustration with the "no-call," and conceded that the play "should have been called."
He also said the NFL may expand instant replay, though coaches and clubs have historically been "very resistant" to allowing challenges to plays where no penalties were called.
The plaintiffs Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert had sued on Jan. 22 in a Louisiana state court, and sought a rare "writ of mandamus" requiring Goodell's review of the disputed game.
The NFL then moved the case to federal court, where Morgan said it belonged, and said it should be dismissed because it was up to referees to fix bad calls, and in Goodell's sole discretion to act now.
In refusing to intervene, Morgan concluded that the NFL, an unincorporated association, and Goodell had no "unequivocal duty imposed by law" to investigate.
"The writ of mandamus may not be used to enforce a disputed right," Morgan wrote.
The case is Badeaux et al v Goodell et al, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 19-00566.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio, Alistair Bell and Richard Chang)