December 12, 2012 3:46pm PT by Alex Ben Block
Judge Tosses Ronald Tutor's Lawsuit Against Aramid
A judge has thrown out Ronald Tutor's lawsuit against Aramid Entertainment, David Molner and others who were instrumental in forcing the involuntary bankruptcy of his film businesses.
Tutor, the CEO of a large construction company who got into the movie business and teamed up with investor David Bergstein, brought the lawsuit alleging he had paid Aramid and related entities $2.9 million to settle claims related to a ThinkFilm loan he had made to finance movies. The lawsuit charged that Aramid got the money and Molner signed an agreement on behalf of Aramid that released certain claims.
Upset that creditors like Aramid then launched a scorched earth war of involuntary bankruptcy and other lawsuits, Tutor hit back by suing them for breach of contract and tortious interference.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Michael Paul Linfield rejected Tutor's lawsuit, saying that Aramid and Molner coudn't be sued over efforts related to their role in the bankruptcy of Bergstein's companies.
After Tutor brought the lawsuit, the defendants brought an anti-SLAPP motion, which provides for special protection of activity that arises from the First Amendment -- not just free speech, but also a right to petition in court.
In granting the motion, the judge ruled that Tutor's claims emanated from lawsuits and bankruptcy filings -- that his suit was "expressly based” on the defendants' conduct in preparing, filing and prosecuting litigation against Tutor and Bergstein. As such, these claims were barred by "litigation privilege." In other words, Tutor and Bergstein can’t sue Aramid for suing them.
The judge also said that Tutor failed to show a probability of prevailing on his clams in the suit. “Plaintiffs arguments are unpersuasive,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “It is apparent that the (amended complaint by Tutor) is based on protected conduct.”
This is the latest blow to what Tutor and Bergstein have made a key part of their defense in the bankruptcy and related cases. The pair have repeatedly charged Aramid with acting improperly, that Molner was paid $2.9 million to settle loan guaranty claims but proceeded to drag Bergstein into court anyway. Molner's actions allegedly interfered with business relationships in the movie industry and purportedly forced Tutor and Bergstein to "incur millions of dollars in attorney’s fees and costs” to defend a supposedly “garden variety tort claim.”
The rejection of the lawsuit follows the rejection of two other lawsuits against attorneys for Aramid, Stroock and Stroock and Levene Neale Bender Yoo & Brill.
Now that a judge has agreed to SLAPP away Tutor's suit against Aramid with prejudice, it can't be refiled. It also means that Aramid and Molner can demand that Tutor now pay their legal bills. A hearing on that is set for March 2013. Aramid is represented by Daniel Rozansky of Stroock and Stroock. Tutor is represented by Robert Nida of the law firm Castle & Associates.
There are two other suits still outstanding. One, brought by Bergstein and his company Graybox against Aramid, makes similar allegations. A more significant case brought by Bergstein and Tutor, also pending in front of Judge Linfield, claims that because attorney Susan Tregub helped Aramid and Molner, and Aramid helped Tregub in her breaches of the law, Aramid should pay them damages and all of their legal costs.