Lawsuit Against Filmmaker Errol Morris Raises Interesting, Bizarre Questions
The Release Form
In the lawsuit, McKinney also claims that she was tricked into appearing in the film. Those claims were subject to demurrers this summer.
McKinney did in fact sign a release for Tabloid, presented to her by producer and co-defendant Mark Lipson. The details of how and why McKinney signed her consent to be in the movie are highly unusual, and Lipson's attorney says it's all untrue.
Allegedly, after her interview was finished in September 2009, she refused to sign the first version of the release. So Lipson purportedly signed it himself under her name to show her how easy it was. Still, she refused.
Then, months later, in March 2010, Lipson allegedly broke into her home with a new release form and said if she did not sign the paper, her dog would die.
McKinney, who claims she is partially blind, says she was exhausted and didn't have time to get her glasses, and as Lipson allegedly stabbed her hand with the pen and yelled, "Sign it! Sign it, or the dog will die," she complied.
But this doesn't count, McKinney now says.
She argues she only agreed to a Showtime series, and that, of course, it was all under duress. Additionally, she objected to the alleged way the defendants wrongfully took control over some of her property, including photographs and home movies, to use in the documentary.
Quite outrageous and nearly as salacious as the original "Manacled Mormon" story. But at the preliminary stage, the judge's job is not to determine truth but rather to figure out whether the facts alleged are sufficient to form a legal basis of a lawsuit.
In a ruling on a demurrer in May, Steele allowed some of the causes of action to continue, including fraud, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).
"The court notes that the facts that might form the basis for an IIED that are not based on protected activity are certain actions attributed to Lipson," the judge ruled. "Examples are the allegations that Lipson stole belongings, stabbed her hand when trying to force plaintiff to sign a release and mocked plaintiff about her dog’s plight."
Steele also found that Lipson could have been acting as an agent for Morris, so the filmmaker has to answer to these charges too.
However, the judge threw out the conversion allegation.
The problem is that McKinney signed a waiver that covered the use of allegedly stolen materials and didn't attempt to rescind the agreement after her supposed duress.
Earlier this month, on similar grounds, a judge rejected McKinney's theft claims against AMC Networks and the distributors of Tabloid over the use of photographs and home video used in the movie. (Some of these parties unsuccessfully attempted to countersue McKinney for tortious interference.) The judge allowed the plaintiff to try again with an amended complaint with additional facts. However, he expressed skepticism and warned it would be their last shot to try an allegation for conversion.
Credit for trimming McKinney's claims goes to John Stephens and Chantal Hwang at the Sedgwick law firm. The case continues, though, and some of the weirdest parts remain. Read on...