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In a ruling that demonstrates that a deal isn’t necessarily completed when one negotiator emails “We’re closed,” Ion TV has prevailed in a $4 million lawsuit over Le Grand, also known as Jo, which stars French actor Jean Reno as a tough elite cop who stops at nothing to solve mysterious murder cases.
Ion Media Networks owns a broadcast television network with terrific distribution reach around the United States. Here, the mystery was whether the TV company contracted for its first original series.
In a lawsuit in October 2012, France-based Atlantique Productions said it had made a deal with Ion that provided for a license payment of $4 million for eight episodes of the Le Grand series, payable on an episode-by-episode basis. The plaintiff alleged that it had submitted $1 million worth of invoices before Ion cited creative concerns such as the “intelligibility” of Reno’s accent in backing out.
Ion disputed the existence of a firm contract. The parties might have exchanged copies of a term sheet outlining the final deal points, but Marc Zand, Ion’s executive vp content acquisitions, told Atlantique’s negotiator that the term sheet “remains subject to final or to various corporate approval.” And in the end, Ion never delivered a signed copy.
In her ruling late last week (read here), U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California said the parties had an understanding about the “signature protocol,” and that neither an earlier signed “final proposal” nor Atlantique’s subjective belief as stated in an email that the deal was “closed” could eviscerate that protocol. Thus, the contract wasn’t binding, despite the French producer’s objection that Hollywood deals go forward without signatures all the time.
Atlantique also argued that the contract had become effective when Ion accepted its performance — providing access to dailies, refraining from shopping Le Grand to other U.S. networks, taking creative comments, etc.
But the judge says Atlantique did much of this prematurely. Further, the evidence was deemed insufficient that Atlantique conditioned access to dailies and creative consultations on a binding agreement.
After the judge determined there existed no contract, she dismissed on summary judgment Atlantique’s claims of promissory estoppel, fraud and unjust enrichment.
Ion was represented by David Grossman, Tom Nolan and Michael Zweig at Loeb & Loeb. Atlantique was repped by Bonnie Eskenazi and Rachel Barchie at Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles.
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