August 09, 2011 6:48am PT by Eriq Gardner
Judge May Allow Iraqi War Veteran's Bombshell Lawsuit Against 'Hurt Locker' Producers to Continue
An Iraqi war veteran's lawsuit against the producers of The Hurt Locker continues, but may be trimmed to its "essence," a claim about whether the film about a US bomb squad in Iraq was based on the plaintiff's life.
The lawsuit was originally filed by Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver in March, 2010, just days before The Hurt Locker won best picture at the Academy Awards.
Sarver claimed he was the inspiration behind the film, its main character, and the title phrase of the film, and sued for misappropriation of his publicity rights, defamation, breach of contract, and infliction of emotional distress.
On Monday, a California federal judge held a hearing on a motion by the defendants, including Summit Entertainment, Voltage Pictures, director Kathryn Bigelow, and writer Mark Boal, to throw out the complaint as an impingement of free speech.
U.S District Judge Jacqueline Nguyen expressed an inclination to dismiss all claims except the one where Sarver alleges that his likeness was misappropriated by the filmmakers, according to the Associated Press.
If the judge's tentative opinion stands, it means that Sarver won't have an opportunity to test before a jury his theory that even a character in a purportedly fictional film can be libelous nor his allegation that when Boal was embedded with the U.S. military to research an article for Playboy magazine, he agreed to "ground rules," including restrictions on the type of personal information that Boal could report on a service member.
On the other hand, if a judge allows the case to go forward on the publicity rights claim, Sarver will have overcome one obstacle in his lawsuit against the film's producers, who had argued Sarver's claims were precluded by the First Amendment.
Sarver's attorney, Todd Weglarz, said that the misappropriation claim "is the essence of this case."
Meanwhile, Jeremiah Reynolds, the attorney for the Bigelow and Boal, argued that allowing the case to go forward would have a chilling effect on filmmaking and that it would "directly impact artists, directors, filmmakers in the future,"
Judge Nguyen has taken the matter under advisement and is expected to issue a written opinion shortly.