2:16pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Britney Spears Legal Dispute Revived By Appeals Court
The crazy legal drama over the life and times of Britney Spears is back on after a California appeals court decided that a jury should decide whether her ex-manager Sam Lutfi — dubbed a "svengali" to troubled stars like Spears and Amanda Bynes — is owed commissions.
It was two-and-a-half years ago when a judge suddenly stopped a trial examining Lutfi's claims against Lynne Spears, the pop star's mother.
Lynne had written a memoir, Through the Storm, that portrayed Lutfi as a master manipulator who secretly drugged Britney, cut off her communications, managed paparazzi, and before being dispensed, set himself up as Britney's "gatekeeper."
Lutfi claimed otherwise, saying that he was the one who insisted upon drug tests and that Britney's life was already a mess.
After a few weeks of testimony that fueled gossip reporters with well-caffeinated salaciousness, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bruguera cut short the proceeding for various reasons, including that Lutfi couldn't establish actual malice to support a defamation claim premised on the allegation that Lynne entirely fabricated statements in her book.
In an opinion on Wednesday, a California appeals court doesn't disturb this ruling nor does it reverse the trial judge's determination of a lack of evidence to support a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
But Lutfi's breach-of-contract claim is another story.
Britney and Lutfi met in 2007. At the time, he was a "consultant" at a gas station business. After the two hit it off — and exchanged hundreds of text messages — he began getting involved in her professional career, accompanying her to a meeting with record executives.
The pop star wanted Lutfi to be her manager, and according to Lutfi, he would only accept if he got 15 percent of her income ($800,000 a month at the time, when she wasn't doing much work), could assemble a management team and Britney would stop abusing drugs.
The conditions were accepted, he says. Later, Lutfi downloaded an artist-management contract he found online and gave Britney a copy.
Eventually, the continued drug abuse, the intervention of Britney's parents and a conservatorship pulled them apart.
Lutfi still felt the management contract was breached and that he had performed services until late January 2008, and in response to the claim, attorneys for Lynn and the conservators argued that the oral contract accepted wasn't enforceable. The defendants pointed to shifting positions about what was allegedly agreed to and the timing of the alleged deal. Lutfi countered that not every term and condition needed to be set forth.
"We must determine whether Sam’s inconsistent testimony as to the start date, the right to terminate, and calculation of his fees shows insufficient clarity of material terms to enforce the alleged contract as a matter of law," writes appeals court judge Victoria Chavez. "We find that it does not. As set forth above, it is a factual question for the jury to determine whether an oral contract was formed between Sam and Britney, and if so, to interpret the material terms of that contract."
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The judge adds that variance as to dates and terms "do not fundamentally undermine his claim," adding, "No miscarriage of justice results from permitting a jury to hear and resolve conflicts in evidence about the dates or terms of any such contract."
A second argument that Lutfi hadn't shown a meeting of the minds to support a valid contract — as Britney was allegedly under undue influence — can't stave off another trial either.
"The conservators were required to prove that Sam actively participated in soliciting Britney's offer to be her manager," writes Chavez. "Under Sam's version of the facts, he did no such thing. In addition, the conservators were required to prove that Sam unduly benefitted from the contract. The facts are certainly in conflict on this point. According to Sam, he is owed the standard percentage for management services that he performed during the time in question."
The contract claim will now head back to the trial court for more proceedings as will an assault claim arising from an allegation that at one point during the feud, Britney's father, James, punched the ex-manager with accusations of hurting his family.