Appeals Court Will Hear About Hollywood Ageism and Dead Lawyers

A date is set for a showdown that attorneys for actress Huong Hoang say "presents a clash between the culture of Hollywood... and the culture of internet companies"

Set your calendars: On February 6, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will stream oral arguments in the appeal of the actress who sued IMDb for revealing her age.

Huong Hoang lost her trial in April, 2013. Despite arguing that "in the entertainment industry, youth is king," the actress couldn't convince a jury that the website owned by Amazon.com breached an IMDb Pro user agreement by using her credit information to discover and publish the fact that she was 42 years old.

Hoang's appeal now focuses on the odd path to trial in Seattle, Washington.

In the midst of a case that partly explored what it means to get older in Hollywood, Hoang's attorney died. John Dozier had open heart surgery, brain surgery, and daily dialysis as he worked on Hoang's lawsuit, and at one point, fell asleep during Hoang's deposition.

In the appeal, Hoang argues that she was "abandoned through the illness and gross neglect" of her suffering lawyer. After Dozier was replaced in the case, Hoang's new attorneys wanted to reopen discovery to gather testimony from Hollywood veterans about how IMDb influences casting decisions.

The judge refused, which the appeal argues was an abuse of discretion and had the prejudicial effect of preventing the actress from meaningfully presenting her theories to the jury. As a result of the judge moving forward in the case, director Gil Junger (10 Things I Hate About You) never got to talk about the ways in which casting professionals use IMDb and the harm from actual age disclosures. IMDb doubts the relevancy to Hoang's contract breach claim.

Hollywood ageism, dead lawyers and more.

According to one of Hoang's appellate briefs, "This case presents a clash between the culture of Hollywood, which values the autonomy to shape one’s theatrical persona so as to maximize one’s marketability, and the culture of internet companies, which value the unrestricted flow of personal information, sometimes over the sanctity of their own subscriber agreements, and often at the expense of individual privacy."

The second part of Hoang's argument to re-ignite her case is that the judge made an instructional error by placing the burden on Hoang to prove she was not in material breach of the user agreement. During trial, the actress was cross-examined about her obligations to provide iMDB with true and accurate information when signing up. She attempted to submit fake birth dates. But Hoang's lawyers say that under Washington law, it's the defendant's responsibility to prove as an affirmative defense that the plaintiff can't recover because she materially breached the contract. IMDb argues that even if the instruction was wrong, there wasn't any prejudice to her.

Hoang is represented by attorneys at Horvitz & Levy and Newman Du Wors. IMDb is represented by the firm of Perkins Coie.

Venkat Balasubramani contributed to this report.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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