« Week in Review | Main | How to Value a Celebrity Athlete's Right of Publicity »

Week in Review

By Martha Nimmer

Food Fight

Custom Television Productions (Custom TV) has sued television producer Kyra Shelgren and her loanout company, Another Division, calling Shelgren's business practices "tantamount to extortion." Shelgren and her company, which helped produce a Food Network TV series entitled "$," is accused of refusing to "hand over dozens of consent forms signed by people on the show, unless the plaintiff company [paid] her $14,000." Custom TV is seeking damages for breach of oral contact and conversion, and seeking delivering of roughly thirty photography releases. As a general practice, Food Network requires releases from anyone filmed as part of a show segment. The network has withheld payment of $93,000 to Custom TV until it supplies the required releases.

Shelgren was hired by Custom TV president Steve Stockman as a producer in connection with a pilot called "$24 in 24 Hours," to air on Food Network. The series follows host Jeff Mauro "as he travels to a different city each week to track down the best breakfast, lunch and dinner he can find with only $24 in his pocket." Stockman later learned, however, that Food Network never received approximately 30 releases for the last episode of the show, shot in Philadelphia, despite promises from Shelgren that she would send the show's remaining paperwork to the channel. According to the complaint, "[o]n or about December 5, 2012, Mr. Stockman requested that Ms. Shelgren immediately send him the releases to give to The Food Network. On or about December 8, 2012, Ms. Shelgren stated that she would not return the releases unless Mr. Stockman paid her $14,000 via wire transfer, a demand tantamount to extortion."

It is unclear when--or if--the new television show will air.


It Is About the Book

More bad news for Lance Armstrong. A federal class action has been brought in Sacramento, CA, alleging that Armstrong and his publishers defrauded consumers by marketing and selling the athlete's book as nonfiction. It's Not About the Bike spent weeks on the bestseller list after being released in 2000. Armstrong's second book, Every Second Counts, also met with similar success.

The lead plaintiff in the suit, Rob Stutzman, has sued the cyclist, Penguin Group, G.P. Putnam's Son, Random House and others for fraud, negligent misrepresentation and various business law violations. In his complaint, Stutzman states that he bought the bestseller, It's Not About the Bike, "sometime between 2001 and 2003." The plaintiff claims that he met Armstrong in 2005 when Stutzman was a member of then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's public relations staff; Stutzman allegedly told Armstrong that he (Stutzman) had recommended the book to friends.

This suit comes on the heels of Armstrong's revelations earlier this month that he used banned, "performance-enhancing drugs" to win all seven of his Tour de France victories. As a result of this revelation, he was stripped of his Tour de France titles, and has lost virtually every single one of his endorsement deals.

The 59-page complaint demands an accounting, restitution, attorney's fees, damages and an injunction. Now, we wait to see if purchasers of the once-ubiquitous yellow "Livestrong" bracelets file suit against the disgraced cyclist.


Bell of the Bar

Forgetting Sarah Marshall star Kristen Bell has sued the managers of Hollywood tequila bar L Scorpion, claiming that the bar failed to repay a $20,000 loan made by the actress. She also accuses the managers of skimming profits. Bell, along with several television executives and producers, seek damages for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, conversion, unjust enrichment, unfair business practices and access to the defendants' books and records.

According to the complaint, defendants Meridian Restaurant Group, Scorpion Management and managers Christopher Heyman and Joshua Woodward "orchestrated a scheme to raise $400,000 from investors, including plaintiffs, to funnel the funds into their failing businesses and rob plaintiffs of their investment." Bell and other plaintiffs allegedly each invested $20,000 in the Hollywood Boulevard L Scorpion bar, in exchange for a 5% aggregate ownership interest in the bar. The actress claims that in July 2005, "Scorpion Management and its parent company Meridian agreed to repay Bell and the other investors 115 percent of their original investment, and distribute pro rata net profits." Despite this promise, Heyman and Woodward are accused of diverting food, money, and beverages away from L Scorpion to the defendants' other, failing businesses. According to the complaint, these funds and items were never repaid. Notably, no one seems to be sure if the bar is even still in operation: "[c]urrently, plaintiffs and the remaining investors do not know if the L Scorpion is still open for business, who is managing the restaurant, and who owns the licenses."

Looks like the party's over.


Touchdown for Free Speech

Citing First Amendment concerns, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt issued an injunction last week restraining the city of New Orleans from enforcing its "Super Bowl Clean Zone" law, which restricted signs and banners from being displayed during Super Bowl week. The Super Bowl will be played this Sunday, February 3rd, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The suit was brought by Tara Jill Ciccarone, an Occupy NOLA protester, and Reverend Troy Bohn, a street preacher in the iconic and historical French Quarter. The city enacted the controversial law on December 6th, with the goal of restricting the use or placement of signs throughout the downtown area of the city as well as the French Quarter. The ban was to be in place from January 28th to February 5th. Violations were punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. The law prohibited "[i]nflatables, cold air balloons, banners, pennants, flags, building wraps, A-frame signs, projected image signs, electronic variable message signs, and light emitting diode signs of any kind shall be prohibited except for those sanctioned or authorized by the City. . . or by the National Football League." Yes, you read that correctly--the city of New Orleans placed partial control over citizens' free speech rights in the hands of the NFL.

In response to the ordinance, Ciccarone sued, stating that she and other Occupy NOLA protesters planned to demonstrate in the city and display signs, and that these constitutionally-protected activities would be infringed if the Clean Zone law were enforced. The signs that the protesters planned to display read "M]oney is not more important than constitutional rights, despite what Clean Zone would indicate" and "Your Tax Dollars Working to Help the Rich Get Richer." Rev. Bohn and his congregation regularly preach on Bourbon Street, carrying crosses and signs such as "I Love Jesus" and "Ask Me How Jesus Changed My Life." Ciccarone and Bohn argued that the city violated the Constitution "by vesting unbridled discretion in a private entity - the National Football League - to control the content of signs and other public media in the Clean Zone."

In a victory for free speech and sanity, Judge Engelhardt agreed with the plaintiffs, ruling that "plaintiffs have demonstrated a likelihood of success that this likely infringement is impermissible under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."


Billionaire vs. Millionaire

Three paintings by renowned artist Jasper Johns are at the center of a lawsuit commenced late last week by billionaire Henry Kravis and his wife against art collector and businessman Donald L. Bryant, Jr. According to the Kravises, they purchased Johns' "Tantric Detail" series jointly with Bryant, with the intention of sharing the works and eventually donating them to New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The Kravises decided to purchase the paintings with Bryant in 2008, and worked out an agreement wherein one owner would transfer possession of the works to the other owner's chosen residence annually, so that Kravis and Bryant could each enjoy the paintings until they were eventually donated to the museum. Such an arrangement successfully took place between 2008 and 2012, according to the complaint. On January 14th of this year, however, the agreement appeared to fall through when Bryant allegedly refused to transfer the paintings to the Kravises. Instead, the complaint states that Bryant is holding the works "hostage" until a new agreement is worked out, one without the pledge to give the works to MoMa.


Striking Out Performance Enhancing Drugs

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), along with Major League Baseball (MLB), are investigating the link between self-described Miami "biochemist" Anthony Bosch and MLB players Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Gio Gonzalez, Nelson Cruz and Bartolo Colon. Bosch is currently being investigated by the DEA for his work at his now-defunct anti-aging clinic in south Florida.

The names of the baseball players, along with detailed patient files, payment records and handwritten notes were found in Bosch's files at his clinic. The players' names were then "leaked to a South Florida weekly paper by a former employee of the clinic," the New York Daily News reports. Alex Rodriguez's name also allegedly appears many times in Bosch's reports and in a notebook, under Rodriguez's real name as well as the aliases "Alex Rod" or "Cacique." The notebook is said to contain information that shows that Rodriguez received testosterone cream and insulin-like growth factor and other types of growth hormone from Bosch. Upon learning of this revelation, Rodriguez hired a Miami-based attorney.

According to sources, "MLB, which has turned over information from its own investigation to the DEA, will now move to question the players and will ask for assistance from the feds in verifying the report." Baseball's drug program, run jointly by MLB and its Players Association, permits "MLB to discipline players for performance-enhancing drug infractions, even if players had not tested positive for controlled substances." Readers will recall that in 2009 MLB suspended Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Manny Ramirez under this drug program policy. Ramirez was suspended for 50 games when MLB discovered through a review of the player's medical records that he had received a prescription for a banned drug.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/new-balco-a-rod-big-name-stars-linked-new-probe-article-1.1250257#ixzz2JOWuSwFM

Stranger Than Fiction

More legal drama has sprung from the Broadway show that never was--"Rebecca." Producers for the failed production have sued the show's former publicist, Marc Thibodeau, for defamation, breach of contract and bread of fiduciary duty. The producers allege that Thibodeau "scared off" a potential investor whose last-minute monetary investment could have saved the production from folding.

The anonymous investor retracted his $2.25 million offer in September, supposedly after receiving an email from a fictitious "Sarah Finkelstein." The email from the fictitious Finkelstein describes the various problems that plagued the doomed show, warning that "the walls are about to cave in" on "Rebecca" and its lead producer, Ben Sprecher. The Broadway production of "Rebecca" was indefinitely postponed in early fall, following "revelations that a middleman had concocted four investors who were responsible for $4.5 million of the show's $12 million capitalization, followed by a separate fiasco, the departure of the last-minute investor in response to Mr. Thibodeau's e-mail."

The alleged scheme by the middleman, Mark C. Hotton, came to light after a New York Times article "questioned the existence of one Hotton investor, "Paul Abrams," who had supposedly died of malaria in London." Hotton is now facing federal charges for fraud; he was arrested at his Long Island home by federal authorities in early October 2012.

In response to the suit filed against Thibodeau, several Broadway compatriots rose to the publicist's defense. In an email to the New York Times, veteran press agents and business partners Chris Boneau and Adrian Bryan-Brown wrote "Marc Thibodeau is one of the most outstanding press agents in the business. His extreme loyalty and dedication over three decades speaks for itself." Thibodeau's lawyer has also stated that his client was only trying to warn the innocent investor "that the show was caught in a 'web of deceit.'" The attorney applauded his client's efforts, calling him "an innocent whistle-blower."

The plot thickens.


Read the complaint here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/01/30/theater/20130129-rebecca.html

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 1, 2013 8:47 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Week in Review.

The next post in this blog is How to Value a Celebrity Athlete's Right of Publicity.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.