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The principal production company behind Rust will not have to face the central claims in a lawsuit from script supervisor Mamie Mitchell.
A Los Angeles judge on Friday dismissed claims of assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Rust Movie Productions, Thomasville Pictures, Ryan Smith and Lengley Cheney, because they didn’t know Alec Baldwin would actually shoot the gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Since the shooting, the producers have maintained that they weren’t responsible for supervising the production. They’ve argued in civil court and in contesting a fine assessed by New Mexico’s safety commission that they simply financed the movie.
So far, Mitchell has faced an uphill battle in court arguing that the production companies are liable for the shooting. She claims that they aided and abetted Baldwin in committing assault by providing him with the loaded gun that the actor fired, detailing a disastrous safety culture on the set of Rust where producers shirked industry-wide norms related to the use of guns to shoot the film on a shoestring budget. In July, L.A. Superior Court Judge Michael Whitaker declined to allow claims of assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress to proceed against producer Anjul Nigam and his loan-out corporation, Brittany House Pictures, since the discharge of the gun was “unexpected.”
Mitchell’s claims against Rust Movie Productions met the same fate, according to a tentative ruling issued by the judge.
“While Plaintiff alleges that Demurring Defendants assisted Baldwin by supplying the loaded weapon, Plaintiff’s allegations fail to establish that Demurring Defendants knew Baldwin would aim and fire the loaded weapon towards Plaintiff such that they would be jointly liable for his intentional conduct,” he wrote. “In fact, Plaintiff’s allegations would show the opposite to be true: the only person who knew Baldwin was going to fire the weapon was Baldwin.”
Under New Mexico law, Mitchell had to sufficiently allege that the production companies knew that Baldwin was going to fire the gun toward Mitchell and that they provided him substantial assistance or encouragement to do so. Her lawyers urged the court to permit discovery on the issue.
During a hearing on Friday, Whitaker refused to budge from his tentative ruling. He explained that there’s no proof that Rust Movie Productions had “knowledge that Baldwin was going to use the firearm in the manner he did by discharging it.”
Both sides agree that the scene didn’t call for the cocking and firing of a gun, which was handed to Baldwin by assistant director Dave Halls instead of armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed — who was responsible for checking that the chambers were empty — in violation of industry safety protocols. The protocols also state that firearms are to be treated as though they are loaded at all times.
Carlos Hernandez, representing Mitchell, argued that the producers should’ve anticipated the fatal shooting because they were aware that loaded guns were on set.
“They had that knowledge,” he said. “They were aware of that and facilitated his use in contravention of the law in New Mexico. It’s a bit unique because of the factual allegations here. They’re not typical of the aiding and abetting of assault.”
Whitaker responded that the arguments are only relevant to Mitchell’s negligence claim. He concluded, “The train needs to leave the station. We need to move on with the litigation.”
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