Justia Entertainment & Sports Law Opinion Summaries

by
Inna Khodorkovskaya sued the director and the playwright of Kleptocracy, a play that ran for a month in 2019 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. She alleged false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Inna, who was a character in Kleptocracy, alleges that the play falsely depicted her as a prostitute and murderer. Inna’s husband was persecuted because of his opposition to Vladimir Putin; the two obtained asylum in the U.K.The district court dismissed her complaint, reasoning that Kleptocracy is a fictional play, even if inspired by historical events, and that the play employed various dramatic devices underscoring its fictional character so that no reasonable audience member would understand the play to communicate that the real-life Inna was a prostitute or murderer. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. “Kleptocracy is not journalism; it is theater. It is, in particular, a theatrical production for a live audience, a genre in which drama and dramatic license are generally the coin of the realm.” The play’s use of a fictional and metaphorical tiger, of Vladimir Putin reciting poetry, and of a ghost reinforce to the reasonable audience member that the play’s contents cannot be taken literally. View "Khodorkovskaya v. Gay" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against a reality show's production and media companies for various causes of action after discovering she was filmed while changing clothes in a dressing area designated for models, and that her "nearly fully nude body had been exposed on national television" during the airing of the show. Defendant production and media companies filed a special motion to strike the model's complaint as a strategic lawsuit against public participation under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16.The Court of Appeal concluded that plaintiff's claims arise from the production and broadcast of an episode of "Shahs of Sunset," which is protected activity. In this case, the court agreed with defendants' assertion that the footage at issue is relevant to the storyline of the episode and that the experience of being a model is an issue of public interest. However, the court concluded that plaintiff has shown a probability of success on her causes of action for invasion of privacy; tortious misappropriation of name or likeness; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and negligence. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court's order denying defendants' special motion to strike the complaint, as modified: the separate cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress is stricken from the complaint, as it is part and parcel of the negligence cause of action. View "Belen v. Ryan Seacrest Productions, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) limits how schools may compensate college-level “amateur” student-athletes. Current and former student-athletes brought suit under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, which prohibits “contract[s], combination[s], or conspirac[ies] in restraint of trade or commerce,” 15 U.S.C. 1. The Ninth Circuit declined to disturb NCAA rules limiting undergraduate athletic scholarships and other compensation related to athletic performance but enjoined certain NCAA rules limiting the education-related benefits, such as scholarships for graduate or vocational school, payments for academic tutoring, or paid post-eligibility internships.The Supreme Court affirmed, considering only the enjoined subset of NCAA rules restricting education-related benefits. Because the NCAA enjoys monopoly control in the relevant market and is capable of depressing wages below competitive levels for student-athletes and thereby restricting the quantity of student-athlete labor, the Court applied “rule of reason” analysis. The Court rejected the NCAA’s argument for “an extremely deferential standard” because it is a joint venture among members who must collaborate to offer consumers a unique product.While a “least restrictive means” test would be erroneous, the district court nowhere expressly or effectively required the NCAA to meet that standard. Only after finding the NCAA’s restraints “patently and inexplicably stricter than is necessary” did the court find the restraints unlawful. Judges must be sensitive to the possibility that the “continuing supervision of a highly detailed decree” could wind up impairing rather than enhancing competition but the district court enjoined only certain restraints—and only after finding both that relaxing these restrictions would not blur the distinction between college and professional sports and thus impair demand, and further that this course represented a significantly (not marginally) less restrictive means of achieving the same procompetitive benefits as the current rules. The injunction preserves considerable leeway for the NCAA. View "National Collegiate Athletic Association. v. Alston" on Justia Law

by
Cohen entered into a work-for-hire agreement with SLP, a special purpose entity formed by TWC to make the film, Silver Linings Playbook. Cohen was to receive $250,000 in fixed initial compensation and contingent future compensation of roughly 5% of the movie’s net profits. The movie was released to critical acclaim in 2012. TWC purports to own all the rights pertaining to the movie, including the Cohen Agreement.In 2017, following a flood of sexual misconduct allegations against its co-founder, Harvey Weinstein, TWC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court approved TWC’s Asset Purchase Agreement with Spyglass, 11 U.S.C. 363. Spyglass sought a declaratory judgment that the Cohen Agreement and had been sold to Spyglass. If the Cohen Agreement were an executory contract, assumed and assigned under section 365, Spyglass would be responsible for approximately $400,000 in previously unpaid contingent compensation. If Spyglass instead purchased the Cohen Agreement as a non-executory contract, Spyglass would be responsible only for obligations on a go-forward basis. Other writers, producers, and actors with similar works-made-for-hire contracts made similar arguments.The bankruptcy court granted Spyglass summary judgment. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Cohen’s remaining obligations under the Agreement are not material and the parties did not clearly avoid New York’s substantial performance rule; the Cohen Agreement is not an executory contract. View "The Weinstein Co. Holdings, LLC v. Spyglass Media Group, LLC." on Justia Law

by
In March 2018, following sexual misconduct allegations against TWC’s co-founder Harvey Weinstein, TWC sought bankruptcy protection. TWC and Spyglass signed the Asset Purchase Agreement (APA). The sale closed in July 2018. Spyglass paid $287 million. Spyglass agreed to assume all liabilities associated with the Purchased Assets, including some “Contracts.” The APA identifies “Assumed Contracts,” as those Contracts that Spyglass would designate in writing, by November 2018.In May 2018, TWC filed an Assumed Contracts Schedule, with a disclaimer that the inclusion of a contract did not constitute an admission that such contract is executory or unexpired. A June 2018 Contract Notice, listed eight Investment Agreements as “non-executory contracts that are being removed from the Assumed Contracts Schedule.” The Investment Agreements, between TWC and Investors, had provided funding for TWC films in exchange for shares of future profits. Spyglass’s November 2018 Contract Notice listed nine Investment Agreements as “Excluded Contracts,”In January 2019, the Investors requested payments from Spyglass--their asserted share of a film’s profits. The Bankruptcy Court rejected the Investors’ claim that Spyglass bought all the Investment Agreements under the APA. The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. The Investment Agreements are not “Purchased Assets” and the associated obligations are not “Assumed Liabilities.” The Investment Agreements are not executory contracts under the Bankruptcy Code. View "The Weinstein Co. Holdings, LLC v. Y Movie, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that defendants unlawfully used photographs of them to advertise strip clubs owned by defendants in violation of New York Civil Rights Law sections 50 and 51. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, holding that plaintiffs signed full releases of their rights to the photographs.The Second Circuit concluded that the terms of Plaintiff Shake and Hinton's release agreements are disputed material facts, and defendants concede that neither they nor the third-party contractors that created and published the advertisements secured legal rights to use any of the photographs at issue. The court held that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to defendants and in denying summary judgment to plaintiffs on liability. Therefore, the court vacated in part and remanded for further proceedings.The court affirmed in part and held that the district court correctly concluded that plaintiffs had not accepted the offer of judgment because the offer's settlement amount term was ambiguous, the parties disagreed over how to interpret the term, and there was accordingly no meeting of the minds. Finally, the court held that the district court correctly dismissed the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), New York General Business Law Section 349, and libel claims. View "Electra v. 59 Murray Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

by
The Second Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. Defendants' conviction stemmed from their involvement in a scheme to defraud universities of athletic-based financial aid when they made secret cash payments to the families of college basketball recruits, thereby rendering the recruits ineligible to play for the universities.The court held that the evidence was sufficient to sustain the wire fraud convictions where defendants have not shown that the government failed to present evidence for any rational trier of fact to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was a scheme to defraud. Furthermore, the jury was also presented with enough evidence for a rational trier of fact to find that the Universities' athletic-based aid was "an object" of their scheme. In this case, the jury could have reasonably found that defendants deprived the Universities of property -- athletic-based aid that they could have awarded to students who were eligible to play -- by breaking NCAA rules and depriving the Universities of relevant information through fundamentally dishonest means. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its evidentiary rulings and did not commit reversible error in its instructions to the jury. View "United States v. Gatto" on Justia Law

by
Szarowicz and Birenbaum played on opposing recreational ice hockey teams in a no-check league. When the puck was hit laterally toward the players’ bench. Szarowicz followed the puck; Birenbaum, who was defending the goal, took several strides parallel to the side of the rink along the players’ bench. The puck ricocheted off the board. Szarowicz intended to slap toward the goal so that his offensive teammate could shoot. Birenbaum collided with him, propelling him into the air, causing him to fall to the ice. Szarowicz was briefly knocked unconscious. He left the ice with assistance and was taken to the hospital. He suffered extensive injuries, including six broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder with three fractured bones, a torn rotator cuff, a fractured sternum, a fractured scapula, and a collapsed lung.Szarowicz sued Birenbaum for negligence and intentional tort. The trial court granted Birenbaum summary judgment, concluding checking is an inherent risk of the game and the assumption of risk doctrine barred Szarowicz from recovering damages. The court of appeal reversed. Summary judgment was inappropriate; a triable issue of material fact exists as to whether Birenbaum breached a limited duty of care owed to Szarowicz not to increase the risks to him beyond those inherent in the game. Szarowicz also raised triable issues of material fact as to his intentional tort claim and his prayer for punitive damages. View "Szarowicz v. Birenbaum" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from a movie-making accident. After her father was injured diving in French Polynesia, Mira Chloe Prickett sued Bonnier Corporation and World Publications, LLC (collectively Bonnier) for compensatory and punitive damages under general maritime law. The trial court granted a judgment on the pleadings against her on the grounds that neither compensatory damages for loss of her father’s society nor punitive damages were available under general maritime law. Appellant Prickett did not cite on appeal any admiralty authority that would allow a child to recover loss of society damages for a nonfatal injury to a non-seaman on the high seas, and – without legislative impetus or compelling logic for such a result – the Court of Appeal declined to do so. The trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Prickett v. Bonnier Corp." on Justia Law

by
Charles Fipke, owner of a racehorse that won the 2017 Breeders' Cup Distaff race, initially named real party in interest Joel Rosario as the jockey for the race, but prior to the draw, he removed Rosario and named a different jockey. The race stewards then awarded Rosario a "double jockey fee," which entitled him to the same fee earned by the jockey who replaced him. Fipke challenged the decision, but it was upheld by the California Horse Racing Board and the superior court.The Court of Appeal reversed and held that Business and Professions Code section 19500 prohibits stewards from awarding a double jockey fee to a rider, like Rosario, who is removed from a mount prior to the draw. In this case, it is undisputed that Rosario was removed from his mount prior to the draw, which necessarily means he was removed prior to "scratch time." The court explained that, under section 19500, he was not entitled to a "riding fee" but was, at most, entitled to a "mount fee." The court also concluded that the double jockey fee award is not a fine or monetary penalty and the stewards did not have authority to impose a double jockey fee as a novel form of punishment. View "Fipke v. California Horse Racing Board" on Justia Law