Lee Daniels Settles 'Butler,' 'Empire' Ownership Dispute With Damon Dash

A lawsuit is dismissed with Dash's attorney trumpeting a "creative" deal that will allow the two to work together again.
Frank Micelotta/Invision/AP

Lee Daniels has resolved a sticky legal situation involving $2M lent by Damon Dash, which the Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder asserted was never fully repaid with debts rolled over, entitling Dash to participate in the success of such films as The Butler and Precious and the hit Fox television show, Empire.

On Tuesday, the parties filed papers dismissing the lawsuit. According to Dash's attorney Natraj Bhushan, it was a "creative, fair" settlement that "calls for them to work together in the not-so-distant future." Bhushan couldn't offer any specific details given a confidentiality provision.

Dash filed his lawsuit in New York Supreme Court last year and claimed that he supported Daniels so that the filmmaker could produce The Woodsman. In return for the money, Dash says he got a written agreement that gave him executive producer credits, 50 percent of rights on the 2004 film and a guarantee that the investment would be repaid with interest from Daniels.

The music mogul says he helped promote Daniels' career, got celebrities like Kanye West to perform in promotional support of films and reassured other stars like Mariah Carey to back Lee after the 2008 film Tennessee didn't perform that well.

In lieu of repayment, Dash says he received an offer to roll over the debt to Daniels' other films like Shadowboxer. Dash says he accepted and years later went to court, arguing that more recent works from Daniels were covered under the terms of the agreement. Dash demanded credits, ownership and compensation.

Daniels responded in court by faulting Dash for not being specific about the provisions of the contract while instead relying upon "opaque references" to oral agreements and an "unintelligible jumble of promises and assurances."

The producer/director also portrayed Dash's money as an investment that came with risks — something the plaintiff allegedly was aware of.

"The gravamen of the claim is that Daniels personally guaranteed Plaintiff’s investment in the motion picture business so that Plaintiff would never realize a loss," stated Daniels' court papers. "There is no personal guarantee. To the contrary, entitled 'Risk of Investment,' Paragraph 13.7 of the agreement — in all caps and bolded language — expressly warns that Plaintiff’s investment was subject to all of the normal risks associated with an inherently risky film venture."

A judge never made a ruling on whether to allow the claims. Instead, the parties have worked out their differences. Daniels' attorney James Sammataro also confirms the settlement.

Dash, who is currently working on a film about Charles Bukowski, tells THR that he's glad to put the lawsuit behind him. "I never like having a beef with anyone — especially from my culture," he says.

He adds that he's been avoiding watching Daniels' films and Empire while the dispute played out, and now that it's over, he'll be catching up.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner

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