UPDATED: In a not-unexpected ruling, a federal judge has dismissed the multimillion-dollar foreign residuals suit brought by former union boss Ed Asner and more than a dozen others against SAG-AFTRA. The ruling (read it here) filed yesterday comes just weeks before the actors union is expected to begin negotiations with producers on a new three-year labor contract, the first since SAG and AFTRA merged in 2012. It lifts what could have been a black cloud over those talks – a June 24, 2014 trial date had been set.
“We are pleased with the judge’s order and believe the complete dismissal is fully warranted,” SAG-AFTRA Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said today in a statement. “The Court acknowledged SAG-AFTRA’s ongoing cooperation with the plaintiffs. SAG-AFTRA has more than 1,000 pages of annual disclosure documents available online to anyone. Despite this unfortunate and unnecessary litigation, we remain focused on collecting and distributing foreign royalties and unclaimed residuals, programs of which we are justifiably proud. We hope that this dismissal will mark an end to such lawsuits that needlessly expend union resources.”
In November, the union moved to have tossed the remaining elements of the suit originally filed in spring 2013 by Asner and the 15 other members of the self-titled United Screen Actors Committee. Despite protests last month from the plaintiffs (they called the union’s check-converting practices “willy-nilly”), U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real on Monday ruled for the union. Asner and the United Screen Actors Committee first filed suit in May 2013 for more than $130 million over allegedly improperly dispersed foreign residuals. In October, Real granted the union’s motion to dismiss a large portion of the suit — though he did not cut the residuals aspect of the claims, giving certain plaintiffs the right to move forward. An amended complaint was filed October 23.
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Almost a month ago, SAG-AFTRA sought to toss out of court the remaining portions of a multimillion-dollar residuals suit filed by former SAG President Ed Asner and 15 other members of the self-titled United Screen Actors Committe. This week, the plantiffs rejected that idea and fired back at the union, which they say has “clearly taken advantage of its role as a fiduciary” and it members. “SAG-AFTRA simply does not record what is earned but it willy-nilly converts checks as it sees fit, by either endorsing checks made out to performers and placing same into its purported Trust Account, or by holding onto performers checks for months if not years on end to the ongoing detriment of its members who depend on these earnings to live,” Tuesday’s 26-page federal court filing says. The union must be “held accountable for misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance in these and other regards,” it adds. Asner and the United Screen Committee first filed suit over more than $130 million in allegedly improperly dispersed foreign residuals on May 24. A hearing on the union’s November request for dismissal and motion to strike is scheduled for January 6 in front of District Judge Manuel Real. In the fall, the judge set a June 24, 2014 trial date in the case.
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In a legal move that comes as no surprise, the union today moved to have the remaining elements of the multi-million dollar suit filed by former SAG President Ed Asner and the 15 other members of the self-titled United Screen Actors Committee tossed out of court. In filings (read them here and here) Wednesday in federal court, SAG-AFTRA lawyers said that the amended complaint by the plaintiffs is covered by federal labor law not state law as they are asserting and should be dismissed. The union also says Asner and the United Screen Committee, who first filed their suit on May 24, are over-reaching in their claims of representation. “While Plaintiffs can maintain a cause of action on their own behalf alleging that their own funds have been converted, Plaintiffs have no right to possession or transfer of amounts allegedly owed to others and therefore their claims for others must once again be dismissed,” says the motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s first amended complaint. A hearing on the dismissal and motion to strike is scheduled for January 6, 2014. That hearing could see this case come to an end or allow Asner and crew to file another amended complaint. Read More »
The initial suit may have been severely trimmed, but the multimillion-dollar lawsuit against SAG-AFTRA by former SAG president Ed Asner and the 15 members of the self-titled … Read More »
A federal judge this morning has ruled that a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the union by former SAG president Ed Asner and the 15 members of the self-titled United Screen Actors Committee will not go forward in its original form. In a hearing downtown, Judge Manuel Real granted large portions of SAG AFTRA‘s motion to dismiss the lawsuit over $130 million in allegedly improperly dispersed foreign residuals. Asner and the other plaintiffs first filed their suitMay 24. After the hearing, plaintiff’s attorney Helena Wise said “we’re not backing away from this”. The lawyer added that because some aspects of the foreign residuals in the case remain partially intact, she is considering amending the complaint. In his decision today, the judge also granted the majority of SAG AFTRA’s motions to strike portions of the original complaint. He did not agree to strike the naming of the union’s national executive director David White, which could be significant as Wise said today she is also considering launching an action of breach of fiduciary duty and corruption against various union executives including White and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. In the hearing earlier, Wise told the judge that she would likely add White and others to the suit if it was allowed to go forward for their alleged role in the foreign residuals pay-outs. Also outside the courtroom after the hearing, plaintiff Bill Richert accused the union of being “corrupt” from “top to bottom.” Richert and several other plaintiffs attended the hearing today. Asner was not among them. SAG AFTRA lawyer Robert Bush said following the 30-minute hearing that “the complaint will have to be completely re-written”, adding that in his opinion “this is a small case, not a big case”.
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Unsurprisingly, the former union president and the other plaintiffs in their lawsuit against SAG-AFTRA claiming the union had not properly disbursed $110 million in foreign residuals don’t agree with the union’s desire to dismiss the bulk of the case or strike a portion of it. In a series of filings late Monday and early today (read them here & here & here), Ed Asner and the other 15-members of the self-titled United Screen Actors Committee allege an “extreme web these parties have woven to steal money that rightfully belongs to U.S. performers, if not others as well.” The plaintiffs are urging the federal court to reject the motions SAG-AFTRA filed back on July 31 in response to their initial suit. “Ironically, the very statements which Defendants want to strike portray a Union and its leadership, as well as Labor Consultants, clearly indifferent to federally mandated LMRDA requirements requiring transparency and accountability in Union finances, as well as access to Union contracts, not to mention the right to timely learn about and to vote upon whether to ratify or reject such contracts,” the 10-age opposition to motion to strike also notes.
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More than two months after former union president Ed Asner and over a dozen others filed suit claiming the union had not properly disbursed $110 million in foreign residuals, SAG-AFTRA today took formal aim at their case. In motions filed Wednesday in federal court (read it here), SAG-AFTRA argues that most of the suit should be dismissed. “What plaintiffs fail to mention in the 52 pages of their complaint is that much of the challenges they raise to SAG-AFTRA’s residuals collection and distribution programs has already been resolved in a judicially approved settlement of virtually identical allegations in a class action lawsuit,” says the nearly 30-page filing. “The instant lawsuit is a virtual verbatim restatement of the settled Osmond litigation,” it adds. That 2007 action by Ken Osmond of Leave It To Beaver fame and other actors was resolved back in 2010. They had accused SAG at the time of not properly paying out $8.1 million in overseas royalties.
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SATURDAY UPDATE, 10:48 AM: The union says that it will “vigorously respond in the appropriate forum in due course” to the suit filed Friday by former SAG president Ed Asner and others over $110 million in undistributed residuals and royalties. Claiming that they are “proud” and “confident” in their foreign royalties program, SAG-AFTRA admit they haven’t actually seen the filing itself. Still, based on previous correspondence with the plaintiffs, the union calls the claims “completely without merit.” Read statement here:
We are very proud of, and confident in, our unclaimed residuals and foreign royalties programs which distribute millions of dollars to performers every year. The foreign royalties program has successfully distributed to performers more than $14 million — money that would otherwise go uncollected and be lost to them forever. The foreign royalties program was previously subject to a class action lawsuit that resulted in a resolution favorable to the union after intense scrutiny of the program. While we have not been provided with a copy of the current complaint, the claims as presented in the plaintiff’s earlier correspondence have been thoroughly reviewed and are completely without merit. We will vigorously respond in the appropriate forum in due course.
PREVIOUS FRIDAY PM: Actors Ed Asner, Clancy Brown, Dennis Hayden, and George Coe are among the 15 plaintiffs who filed suit today in federal court against SAG-AFTRA for not properly disbursing $110 million in foreign residuals they say have not been paid out. Asner is the former SAG president (1981-1985) who very publicly opposed the SAG-AFTRA merger along with other ex-union board members. The 52-page filing (read it here) also claims that the merged union has deliberately withheld information and kept the money in trust and spent portions on first class travel and lavish parties and big salaries for current union officials. “Plaintiffs have reason to believe that SAG-AFTRA has now amassed a substantial slush fund that does not belong to the labor organization but instead belongs to members and non-members, and/or their estates, on covered and uncovered works,” says Friday’s filing. Requesting a jury trial, the plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages as well as injunctive relief and an order by the court that would stop the union from being able to collect overseas royalties. Instead, the suit proposes a separate “independent body” established to handle the funds in the future. Read More »
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