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On Tuesday, former U.S. vice president Al Gore scored a knockdown — if not yet a total knockout — when a San Francisco judge dismissed a $5 million lawsuit brought by media consultant John Terenzio, who alleged being cut out of Current TV’s $500 million sale to Al Jazeera.
In the lawsuit, Terenzio claimed he conceived the idea for the distribution of an American version of Al Jazeera, presented a proposal for Al Jazeera titled “Path to U.S. Distribution” and identified Current TV as a potential acquisition target.
San Francisco Superior Court judge Ernest Goldsmith presided over a demurrer hearing and ruled at the end that Terenzio hadn’t alleged enough to support his causes of action. However, Terenzio was given 10 days to try again with an amended complaint, which could shed light on new details from Al Jazeera’s acquisition.
Since the announcement of the Current TV sale this past January, Al Jazeera has been staffing up in anticipation of its launch next month. Gore, who reportedly netted $70 million from the sale, has a role on the new channel’s advisory board. Others, like former Current TV host Eliot Spitzer, have moved on to new political ambitions.
Meanwhile, in a San Francisco court, the sale of Current has been the object of scrutiny.
In Terenzio’s lawsuit, he spoke about having approached Richard Blum, a member of Current’s board of directors because “he and other Current investors were concerned about the prospect of losing their shirts in the financially troubled Current.”
Terenzio, who previously worked on making China Central Television available for American audiences, says he devised strategies for transitioning Current to Al Jazeera in a way that would make it “palatable to U.S. lawmakers, pro-Israel factions, cable operators and, most importantly, the American public.”
To do so, Al Gore’s resistance allegedly had to be conquered. According to the original lawsuit, “Gore was adamant in his rejection of the proposal to sell his liberal, environmentally friendly network to the oil-rich Qataris who owned Al Jazeera. Apparently, Gore had a change of heart.”
That’s not enough for Judge Goldsmith, who writes in a brief ruling that Terenzio has “not pled any facts to allege the personal liability of Mr. Gore for Plaintiffs’ alleged dealings with Defendants Current TV and Current Media.”
In the lawsuit, Terenzio alleged that he worked on the project with an expectation of compensation if the sale was consummated.
“As pled, Mr. Terenzio alleges that he intended to broker the sale of a business opportunity that is within the purview of Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 10130, 10131(a),” writes the judge in his Tuesday ruling. “Plaintiffs have not alleged any facts to show that Mr. Blum was Defendants’ agent. Leave to amend is granted, if they can do so in good faith, for Plaintiffs to distinguish their proposed involvement in the sale of Current TV and to allege estoppel based on theories of ostensible authority and ratification.”
In other words, Terenzio is being given 10 days to connect the dots about his proposals for Current, the authority of those he interacted with, and the intent of the defendants that would bind them to an implied agreement. And if Gore is to be included, Terenzio will likely have to show the former vp’s specific involvement in these activities.
For now, the judge has dismissed an allegation over a breach of implied agreement as well as one for quantum meruit, which was based on the idea that Terenzio provided uncompensated services to Current. The judge dismisses that with leave to amend because Terenzio has “not alleged that Defendants’ consent or that Defendants requested Mr. Terenzio’s services, but rather that Mr. Terenzio presented his unsolicited proposal to Defendants.”
Finally, Judge Goldsmith in the ruling rejects an unjust enrichment claim against the defendants because it “is not a cause of action.” In any amended lawsuit, that claim won’t be coming back.
Terenzio is being represented by Ellyn Garofalo at Liner Grode Stein Yankelevitz Sunshine Regenstreif & Taylor. Current is being handled by Bert Deixler at Kendall Brill & Klieger.
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