September 08, 2011 2:43pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Inside the Strange Legal Battle Between 'Gossip Girl' Star Leighton Meester and Her Mother (Analysis)
The legal dispute between Gossip Girl star Leighton Meester and her mother is one of the stranger ones in Hollywood right now. Just how bizarre can be witnessed in the court papers filed by the daughter in an attempt to get a judge to dismiss her mother's $3 million breach-of-contract lawsuit.
To recap, the actress sued Constance Meester in July over allegations that money sent her way was diverted. The younger Meester said she gave money to her mother on a monthly basis so her brother could get medical attention, not because there was any contractual obligation to do so, and certainly not so her mother could have plastic surgery.
Mommy Meester countered by filing her own lawsuit a few days later that alleged Leighton had breached various agreements adding up to $3 million. Constance claimed she had "sacrificed her happiness" to support Leighton's acting career.
In a demurrer, Leighton now is attacking the purported agreements that form the basis of her mother's claims. Of course, the devil is in the details, so let's examine:
In her complaint, Constance presents a sob story about how she was allegedly taken advantage of by her daughter, but strip away the emotional grandstanding, and her main legal claims rest on a purported breach of management, support, and settlement agreements. What was the real nature of those agreements?
To start, one might consider whether Constance really was Leighton's manager.
In the demurrer, Leighton says the document produced as evidence of this type of relationship is merely an "employment agreement," whereby Leighton's loan-out corporation, Intentional Productions, Inc., was established to render Leighton's acting services. The document is said to give Leighton 100% of income from her activities, allowing IPI to deduct certain things like union dues, agent commissions, manager's fees, and health contributions. It doesn't explicitly provide Constance with any money.
That said, Constance was president of IPI and her signature is on the agreement. Her lawsuit so far is pretty silent on why this agreement should be interpreted as confirming Constance's role as manager, and we wonder whether Constance is suggesting she's her daughter's manager by implication. There are many problems with this theory, including whether Constance was paid and the prohibition on managers securing employment for clients, but really, the dispute boils down to authority over Leighton's income. Leighton says Constance had none.
Meanwhile, the settlement and support agreements are purported to stem from a litigation proceeding between Leighton and her former talent agency, Abrams Artist Agency. The lawsuit occurred in 2009, at which time, it's alleged that attorney Marty Singer contacted Constance to procure her testimony on behalf of her daughter, and in return for doing so, the two executed an oral agreement whereby Constance would be given $10,000 per month.
Here, Leighton argues that the supposed contract is "void" because it's illegal to bargain for testimony to win a lawsuit. It's said that Constance would have a duty to testify under subpoena, so there's no consideration.
Constance argues that these contracts can be construed as settlement agreements -- oral and implied-in-fact -- putting behind a burgeoning family feud. But Leighton attacks such a representation on multiple grounds, including the ambiguity of the terms, the absence of "reasonable reliance," the expiration of a statute of limitations, and voidance for the same reasons given above.
Perhaps our favorite reason that Leighton gives a judge to throw out this lawsuit is also the one that illustrates just how unbelievably goofy this case is.
In Constance's lawsuit, she claims to be victim to the pretty rare legal claim of "dependent adult financial abuse," meaning the traditional mother-daughter roles have been flipped: Constance supposedly is Leighton's dependent and relies upon her daughter financially.
Leighton says that Constance hasn't established that she has physical or mental limitations that would establish such was the case, but even if she did, Leighton's court papers say, "If she were a dependent adult she would require a guardian to sue on her behalf." And who might that be, Upper East Siders?