Dave Hester can move forward with the wrongful termination portion of his wide-ranging lawsuit against A&E and the producers of Storage Wars, a judge ruled today. In a hearing Tuesday in LA Superior Court, Judge Michael Johnson rejected the network’s free speech related attempt to dismiss the wrongful termination aspect of the former reality cast member’s nearly 10 month old legal action. Citing the First Amendment and California’s anti-SLAPP statute, A&E had argued that Hester’s suit would effectively hand him control over who they could put on the hit reality show. Johnson didn’t agree. “Plaintiff’s contract expressly states that Defendants had no obligation to use Plaintiff on the program during the term of their agreement. Plaintiff is suing to recover money, and not to inject himself into the program,” wrote Johnson in a tentative ruling issued before this morning’s hearing. Hester sued A&E and Storage Wars’ producers Original Productions back in December 2012. At the time he called the show a staged “fraud on the public” and claimed he was suddenly kicked off the storage locker auction series before the fourth season when he complained about their methods. Hester is seeking over $750,000 plus punitive damages that could add up to millions more. The judge today also rejected A&E’s motions to dismiss the punitive damages. The first round of the case went A&E’s way when Johnson threw out the unfair business practices claims of the former series star’s suit against the network and the producers on March 12. That loss for Hester lead to Judge Johnson ordering him to pay a $122,692 portion of the defendants’ legal fees. Johnson also agreed in March with A&E and Original that their First Amendment rights would be violated if the court were to let to Hester’s attorneys’ request for an injunction against Storage Wars for the alleged staging of the show. Marty Singer and Hester’s other lawyer Allison Heart of Lavely & Singer have now removed that request from the suit in an amended complaint. A&E and Original Productions are represented by Kelli Sager, John LeCrone and Michelle Bussarakum of LA firm Davis Wright Tremaine. Storage Wars returned for a fourth season on April 16 – without Hester.
Days after yet another round of filings in the Black Swan interns’ class action, Fox Searchlight and Fox Entertainment Group got some traction and some status quo out of the overseeing federal judge. The traction this week came out of Judge William Paley III granting (read the order here) the Fox companies’ June 25th request to limit the time period in which potential class action participants can be considered qualified to join the suit. Instead of stretching from September 28, 2008 to September 1, 2010 as originally granted on June 11, the qualifying period will now be from a much tighter January 18 to September 1, 2010. The case was modified down to less than nine months in range due to the three year statute of limitations and the fact that plaintiff Eden Antalik, didn’t join the initial September 2011 action by Black Swan interns Alex Footman and Eric Glatt until an amended complaint was filed in late 2012. While Glatt and Footman worked on the 2010 Darren Aronofsky-directed film, Antalik was an unpaid intern in Fox Searchlight’s NYC corporate office. This order on August 26 could now see the number of people who can actually join the class action cut quite severely – which is a carving up the case that works for Fox.
The heirs of Old Hollywood continue to want today’s studios to pay up. Legendary horror movie actor Lon Chaney Jr’s family today went after Universal in the courts for more than $1 million in damages. In a nine-page breach of contract and other claims complaint (read it here) filed Monday in LA Superior Court, Chaney Entertainment alleges that Universal Studios Licensing uses the Wolf Man and Mummy and Frankenstein actor’s likeness for merchandise and goods and services despite the fact that a representation agreement between the studio and the company expired on December 31, 2008. Although he played Lennie Small in 1939′s Of Mice and Men adaptation alongside Burgess Meredith, Chaney was best known for his performances in a series of Universal monster movies in the 1930s and 1940s. After his death in 1973, his heirs and their corporate entity entered into a number of agreements with Universal over the rights to his image and his film work. Seeking a 5-day jury trial, the complaint filed today also claims that Universal Home Video has not properly paid the Chaneys for the use of the long-deceased actor’s image or voice-over in licensed film clips.
A Superior Court judge today formally dismissed most of an $8 million lawsuit against Steven Tyler’s lawyer by the former American Idol judge’s former managers. Kovac Media Group/Tenth Street Entertainment had claimed in their suit filed back in October that attorney Dina LaPolt has played both sides and had messed up Tyler’s contract renegotiations with the Fox show in 2011. Judge Joseph Kalin this morning in a conference case management hearing declared that the defense’s invoking of anti-SLAPP statutes and the First Amendment did protect the lawyer. Kovac alleged LaPolt’s mishandling of their “hot commodity” cost Tyler a $6 million to $8 million raise in his Idol contract for a second season on the show. Tyler announced he was leaving Idol in July 2012. Today’s ruling was not unexpected as the Judge has previously staked out the position in a tentative ruling. That doesn’t mean it’s completely over.
CBS won’t be getting caught up in the rough currents of a Hawaii Five-O lawsuit after all. Monday the network was released from a lawsuit filed in May by the agent of Hawaii Five-O creator Leonard Freeman. “Defendant CBS Studios Inc.’s, erroneously sued as CBS Television Network, (“CBS”) Demurrer is sustained without leave to amend,” wrote LA Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon in his tentative ruling (read it here) made final Monday. While the network could be pulled back into the case on appeal, they are out of the case for now. “We appreciate the court’s ruling and are pleased that it brings an appropriate conclusion to our involvement in this lawsuit,” said a CBS spokesman today. Though many of his claims were substantiated, it was time that worked against Freeman’s former agent George Litto - specifically how long it took Litto to file his $10 million suit against the Freeman heirs and adding CBS to the complaint last fall. Litto contended in his suit that the heirs and CBS shut him out of 2010 negotiations for the reboot of the original series that ran from 1968 to 1980. After the 1974 death of Freeman, Litto and the producer’s widow Rose came to an agreement that gave him substantial rights in connection with future versions of the series.
UPDATE, 11:21 AM: Judge Michael Johnson today issued a final ruling denying the state’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit from Ashton Kutcher’s production company against the California DMV. A trial date has been set for June 8. Katalyst Media and Soda and Pop Inc. filed the suit on June 19, alleging that the DMV dropped out of a reality series the Two And A Half Men star’s company was developing.
PREVIOUSLY, FRIDAY PM: Ashton Kutcher’s production company’s lawsuit against the California DMV for dropping out of a reality series moved one tentative step in the actor’s favor today. Judge Michael Johnson issued a tentative ruling Friday denying the state’s request to dismiss the breach of contract and promissory estoppel suit.
Author Angela Wilder has sued the network, the companies and some head executives alleging that her idea for a talk show based on motherhood was the real inspiration for the CBS daytime series. “It’s one thing to get sued over a project that was pitched to us, but quite a stretch to be sued over a pitch that was made to somebody else. Ms. Wilder’s alleged offering to Sony played absolutely no part in the creation of The Talk. We’ll vigorously defend this case and expect to prevail,” said CBS today. Sara Gilbert, Sharon Osbourne, Sheryl Underwood, Aisha Tyler and Big Brother host Julie Chen co-host the CBS Television Studios and RelativityREAL produced show. CBS has always said that The Talk, which debuted in October 2010, is based on an idea by Gilbert. The Powerful Mate Syndrome author obviously disagrees. However, as made clear from the seven-count suit she filed on October 17, Wilder never actually met with anyone from either CBS or Relativity – though both are named among the defendants.
The Aerosmith lead singer’s former manager says lawyer Dina LaPolt poisoned Steven Tyler’s contract renegotiations with American Idol, costing him a multimillion-dollar raise. Kovac Media Group/Tenth Street Entertainment today filed an $8 million lawsuit (read it here) against the entertainment lawyer and her West Hollywood firm. American Idol and its former judge are not named as defendants in the breach of fiduciary duty complaint. In fact Tyler is not named at all. Instead he is referred to as “The Artist” throughout the filing, though it is pretty clear from the players, his membership in a band and his role as judge for two seasons on the Fox show exactly who he is. The suit claims that in 2011 LaPolt lost “hot commodity” Tyler a $6 million to $8 million raise in his Idol contract for a second season on the show.
A New York judge has tossed the yearlong legal action around the short-lived paranormal crime series. “The Court finds that no discerning observer would conclude that Past Life had appropriated protected elements from Transience,” wrote Judge Barbara Jones yesterday (read ruling here). Transience writer Stevan Mena sued Fox Entertainment, Warner Bros Entertainment as well as producers David Hudgins and Craig Perry for copyright infringement last August. Produced by Warner Bros Television, Past Life debuted on February 9, 2010. With low ratings, Fox cancelled the show after three episodes. The screenwriter claimed that significant elements of the TV series were drawn from the script he wrote back in 2008. For instance, both do feature reincarnation, a child who has visions and is taken care of by a doctor and crime. However the judge ruled that there’s nothing unique about such story devices. Mena contends that his feature script made its way to Past Life creator Hudgins via Practical Pictures’ Perry and was the basis for the show.
Alex Footman and Eric Glatt should not be allowed to enlarge their class action suit to include all Fox Entertainment Group interns, says Fox Searchlight. In a 24-page memorandum filed Wednesday in New York federal court (read it here), the studio claims that the request the former Black Swan interns’ made last month is speculative and not even plausible. Fox Searchlight did concede that former intern Eden Antalik could serve as a rep for interns in its NYC office. They did not do the same for Kanene Gratts, who served as an intern on (500) Days of Summer back in early 2008 in LA. Fox, who co-produced that film, claims that Gratts is time-barred under California law, which has a four-year statute of limitations.