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What sort of alimony do actors owe their managers upon divorce?
The question is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit involving former Friends star Lisa Kudrow. In an unpublished opinion late last month, a California appeals court has reignited a claim by Kudrow’s former manager that she owes money.
Three years ago, Kudrow terminated Scott Howard, her long-time business manager who had been representing her since 1991. The two operated under an oral deal where Howard provided personal management services for Kudrow in return for 10 percent commission on her income.
It was a lucrative arrangement for Howard, even after the commission was trimmed to just 5 percent in 2004. At the height of Kudrow’s fame, she was getting nearly $1 million an episode for Friends, plus 11/4 percent of the “backend” earnings of the show in syndication.
After Kudrow terminated Howard in 1997, he sued for breach of contract, alleging that she had failed to make ongoing commission payments for work that he had handled. Howard sought a declaration that he was entitled to receive his commissions on all of Kudrow’s earnings for work done between 1991 and 1997, even after Kudrow terminated him.
Because the deal was an oral one, Howard lacked written evidence on the terms of the deal, but nevertheless attempted to show that it was customary in the entertainment industry for a personal manager to be paid post-termination commissions on work handled during the employment period. He sought to include the testimony of an expert, Martin Bauer, to show this.
Kudrow objected on the grounds that Bauer’s assessment lacked a reasoned explanation that connected his conclusions to the facts of the specific dispute between the parties. Howard sought a continuance that might allow him to address those deficiencies, but before he got the chance, a court dismissed the case on summary judgement.
In an unpublished decision late last month, a California appeals court ruled that Howard should have gotten that chance. The appeals court says the trial court abused its discretion by denying Howard’s motion for continuance and that “even if the contract appears to be unambiguous on its face, extrinsic evidence (like what’s customary in the entertainment industry) is admissible to disclose a latent ambiguity.”
The summary judgement has been reversed and a trial court will once again consider what Lisa Kudrow might owe to her former personal manager.
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