6:41am PT by Eriq Gardner
Mark Burnett's Ex-Partner Declares Bankruptcy on Eve of 'Survivor' Trial
Here's some gamesmanship: Just hours before a trial was set to begin in a dispute featuring the genesis of CBS' long-running reality competition show Survivor, Conrad Riggs' Cloudbreak Entertainment has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in California federal court.
Riggs, a former executive at Disney, worked with top television producer Mark Burnett to sell Survivor to CBS and The Apprentice to NBC. In 2008, he sued Burnett, claiming he was owed 10 percent of the shows' profits, amounting to some $70 million. That case was later settled in 2012.
But since then, Riggs has been in court with Layne Leslie Britton, who once served as a business affairs vp at NBC and CBS.
Britton alleges he's owed $14 million after providing consulting services for Riggs and Burnett. The plaintiff claims he helped create the innovative financial structure for Survivor. In response, Riggs and Cloudbreak brought counterclaims asserting that Britton was working as an attorney and should be held liable for professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duties. In October, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge gave a partial summary judgment victory for Britton and set up a trial to determine what, if anything, he was owed.
The trial was scheduled to begin on Wednesday morning. It had the potential of not only discussing the way in which Survivor was brought to CBS two decades ago, but also revenue for Burnett's other shows like Apprentice, featuring Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Last month, Riggs brought a motion aiming to stop Britton from making mention of entitlement to money from other Burnett projects. The parties have most recently been disputing the judge's instructions to a jury.
However, Cloudbreak may now be looking to take advantage of the bankruptcy code's automatic stay on litigation.
According to the company's Chapter 11 petition, signed by Riggs, most of its debt is tied to the disputed $14 million claim by Britton. About a million dollars more is owed to attorneys, especially those at Browne George Ross, which likely represents the amount of legal fees incurred in Riggs' legal war with Britton.
In a hearing Wednesday, Judge Frederick Shaller postponed the trial until Feb. 10. In the interim, Britton's lawyer, Jeff McFarland of Quinn Emanuel, will request the bankruptcy court lift the automatic stay.
He calls the Chapter 11 filing "wholly preemptive" because the debts correspond to the outcome of the trial. "We’ll say, 'We're not sure if it’s a real liability. Let’s have our trial,'" McFarland told The Hollywood Reporter.
Update Dec. 2, 10:16 a.m: Added trial postponement and comment from McFarland.