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Martin Scorsese has successfully convinced a judge that his production company is based in New York. As a result, Sikelia Productions is being dismissed from an ongoing libel lawsuit that targets his 2013 film, The Wolf of Wall Street.
The lawsuit comes from Andrew Greene, a former executive at Stratton Oakmont, the financial firm whose 1990s exploits were chronicled in the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Stratton Oakmont founder Jordan Belfort. Greene alleges that the character of Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff — played by actor P.J. Byrne — was based on him. Greene is upset how he was portrayed as “a criminal, drug user, degenerate, depraved, and/or devoid of any morality or ethics,” and in October 2015, his complaint barely survived a motion to dismiss.
The litigation has been since moving at a snail’s pace, but U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert has evidently not forgotten about it. On Monday, she ruled on Sikelia’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.
Greene claims violations of New York defamation and privacy law, but the case is in federal court thanks to the diversity of where the parties — including Paramount Pictures, Red Granite Pictures and Appian Way — are domiciled.
But Sikelia argued that Greene, a New Yorker, was ignoring how it, too, was a New York citizen. Scorsese even gave a deposition about it.
Although the plaintiff responded that Scorsese’s company was not registered to conduct business in New York until February 2016 and pointed to a California office and a key employee there, the judge nevertheless accepts other evidence of a New York base of operations.
Among them, according to Seybert, “Mr. Scorsese alleges that while Sikelia has been represented by a California entertainment law firm since 2003, he ‘spend[s] the preponderance of [his] time within the state of New York, and key decisions are made by [him] in the state of New York.’ In the absence of any evidence that Sikelia’s New York City offices are nothing more than ‘a mail drop box, a bare office with a computer, or the location of an annual executive retreat,’ the Court finds that that Sikelia’s principal place of business is New York. Accordingly, Sikelia’s presence as a defendant in this action destroys diversity.”
According to the ruling, Greene’s lawyers indicated that they preferred to just have Sikelia dismissed from the case rather than have the whole case rejected. That way they can continue to litigate against the other co-defendants and avoid having to renew claims on a “piecemeal” basis.
In theory, Greene could reassert claims against Scorsese’s company in New York state court, but as the judge notes in Monday’s order, the statute of limitations in New York for libel claims is one year, casting doubt on the viability of any subsequent state court action.
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