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Court denies Cussler 'Sahara' appeal but reverses damages

Cussler,clive A California Court of Appeal has torpedoed novelist Clive Cussler's latest attempt to recover money from the 2005 boxoffice bomb "Sahara." But the court also has taken away a $5 million award to Cussler's archnemesis, Philip Anschutz's Crusader Entertainment.

Here's the 27-page unpublished decision, issued today. Cussler has been feuding for years with Anshutz's Crusader (now Bristol Bay). In 2004, the popular novelist filed suit claiming up to $140 million in damages from Crusader breaching a licensing agreement and failing to properly include him in the development of the "Sahara" film.

Crusader then countersued, arguing that Cussler had hurt the film's boxoffice prospects by, among other things, telling his fans not to see it.

The 14-week trial in the case became a national fascination thanks to the light it shined on Hollywood accounting (the Matthew McConaughey bomb, directed by Breck Eisner, is estimated to have lost about $80 million after expenses).

A jury ultimately awarded Crusader $5 million, but Cussler's lead lawyer, Bert Fields, argued that the decision was a win for Cussler because it left it open for an appeals court to find that Cussler was entitled to $8.5 million for, among other things, the adaptation rights to a second novel.

The appeals court today declined to follow Fields' suggestion but took away the $5 million award to Crusader, remanding the case back to the trial court. Given that Cussler has now spent nearly six years pursuing the case, the decision has to be considered a disappointment.

"After several years of Cussler claiming that he won this case, the Court of Appeal has now made it clear that that was not the case," Crusader's lead lawyer, Marvin Putnam, told us tonight. "The only victor here is my client, who should have never been sued in the first place."

Fields did not return a call for comment. UPDATE: Fields called us back and says the ruling vindicates his client by taking away the jury award to Crusader. "It's very clear it's a total win for Cussler," he says.

The Court of Appeal found that Crusader's claim for breach of an implied covenant of good faith was barred as a matter of law, so the $5 million jury award on that claim was reversed, as was a finding that Crusader was the "prevailing party" in the case (which could be important because Crusader was awarded attorneys' fees).

Cussler was repped on the appeal by Fields, Elisabeth Moriarty and Caroline Heindel Burgos at LA's Greenberg Glusker firm. Crusader was repped by O'Melveny & Myers' Putnam, William Charron and Jessica Stebbins.