Hollywood Docket: Lance Armstrong's Lies Protected; 'Real Housewife' Lawsuit; Dodgers Divorce
Hollywood's latest entertainment law stories include NBC's legal victory over "Animal Practice" and the security guard who alleges Universal Music's West Coast office is a drug hotspot.
Lance Armstrong and two of his publishers have escaped a class action lawsuit that proposed his books contained lies and thus represented violations of false advertisement and unfair competition laws.
The lawsuit was filed in January, shortly after the former cyclist admitted to Oprah Winfrey that he had cheated on the road, winning multiple Tour de France championships. The class of plaintiffs attempted to hold him liable for It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, published in 2000 by Penguin Group, Every Second Counts, published in 2003 by Random House, and three other books. The lawsuit contended that the books were presented as truthful works of nonfiction biographies when they were really works of fiction.
In reaction to the claims, Armstrong and the publishers brought an anti-SLAPP motion that sought to strike the complaint as interfering with First Amendment rights. On Tuesday, a California federal judge granted the motion.
U.S. District Judge Morrison England looked at the plaintiffs' allegations, which maintained that if the truth about Armstrong's use of performance-enhancing drugs was public, these books wouldn't be best-sellers. It was further alleged that denials about Armstrong's PED use was made as part of a scheme to defraud the book buyers and maintain and grow the Armstrong "brand."
The judge said that statements concerning Armstrong were undoubtedly "a topic of widespread public interest" and in furtherance of the constitutional right of free speech. As such, the defendants met a threshold burden under the anti-SLAPP statute, and the burden shifted to the plaintiffs to demonstrate that they were likely to prevail in the case.
That burden was not met, said the judge.
The content within the books aren't commercial, continued the judge, saying "the statements are Armstrong's account, albeit partially untruthful, of his life and cycling career." Neither were the defendants' public statements regarding Armstrong's use of PEDs, which the judge said "do not refer to a specific product" and can't be stretched to encompass Armstrong's "brand" for purposes of the law in question. And while promotional statements made about the book make for a closer analysis of being unprotected commercial speech, the judge said that these statements are "inextricably bound to the noncommercial contents of the books."
The judge also declared that the plaintiffs haven't alleged enough to support claims of fraud and negligent misrepresentation and struck the complaint, although he allowed them an opportunity to amend. Here's the full ruling.
In other entertainment law news:
- Victoria Gunvalson, who stars on Real Housewives of Orange County, is being taken to court over a vodka business. In a Las Vegas court, Robert Williamson III is suing her and others over an alleged conspiracy to deprive him of his share of an enterprise called Vicki's Vodka. The plaintiff says he originally agreed to make $300,000 in funding commitments and later bought out another stakeholder for $50,000. But instead of winding up with 66.7 percent of the company as expected, he received a nonmajority share. He alleges that he came to a settlement agreement with Gunvalson at one time, but she breached it, and there were threats to dissolve Vicki's Vodka.
- A judge won't throw out Jamie McCourt's divorce settlement with Frank McCourt, saying her claims that she was unaware of the potential value of the Los Angeles Dodgers are "not credible." She got $131 million in the divorce, but then the Dodgers were sold to Guggenheim for $2.15 billion, and a $8.15 billion deal with Time Warner Cable was struck for a regional sports network. The judge didn't see evidence that she was misled. Her attorney says she will appeal.
- Remember Crystal the Monkey? Starring on NBC's Animal Practice, the monkey lasted just seven episodes as "Dr. Rizzo" last autumn. While the show might be a distant memory, it didn't stop Duckhole, Inc. from suing NBCUniversal for allegedly misappropriating the show from a work entitled "PETS," registered as a treatment to the WGA by Paul J. Andre. His show would have featured "Bud," the resident pet of the veterinary office. Last week, a judge tossed the lawsuit, saying the works weren't substantially similar and that the idea for a resident pet is "not an original copyrightable element." Here's the ruling. It's already been appealed.
- Those looking forward to a public trial exploring drug use by musicians and their entourage might be disappointed to learn that a lawsuit against Universal Music Group is headed to arbitration. In April, an anonymous security guard alleged that UMG's West Coast office had been "infiltrated with pervasive drug use where you could smell marijuana seeping from various offices and openly used in common areas and lounges." She alleges this represents a hostile work environment. Besides UMG, she's suing her employer, Universal Protection Services, but the arbitration provision of her contract is being honored by a Los Angeles judge. Thus, the chance of seeing on the witness stand Macy Gray and Adam Levine, among the stars mentioned in the complaint, are pretty close to nil.