SAG-AFTRA Merger Lawsuit to be Dropped

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The plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit that sought to enjoin the SAG/AFTRA merger referendum – which passed almost two months ago – have decided to voluntarily dismiss the case, according to a letter from their lawyer, David Casselman.

“After careful consideration, largely reflecting on the results of the recent merger election, my clients have reached the conclusion that continued prosecution of the pending litigation would not assist the cause they initially sought to champion,” said the letter, addressed to SAG outside counsel Bob Bush.

In response, SAG-AFTRA executive vice president Ned Vaughn said, “Dropping this frivolous lawsuit is the first good decision the plaintiffs have made.”

An email from a spokeswoman for the plaintiffs said that the necessary documents would be filed with the court today or tomorrow. Casselman told The Hollywood Reporter in an email that the union already had the documents and would file them, but this could not be immediately verified.

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On March 28, U.S. District Court judge James Otero denied the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction and dismissed some, but not all, of their claims. Two days later, the results of the referendum were an overwhelming approval of merger, not just by AFTRA – whose members voted 86% in favor – but also by SAG members, who gave an unexpectedly resounding 82% thumbs up.

SAG had argued that the suit was meritless. In a filing a month ago, the union added that the suit was both moot – i.e., stale, in that the merger referendum was over – and, for other reasons, was premature.  In contrast, today’s letter from Casselman said that “the plaintiffs continue to believe in the truth of all of the allegations presented.”

Yet it appeared possible that the suit would drag on for months even after it had been all but dismissed, as did a suit filed against SAG in 2009 by some of the same plaintiffs. As THR previously reported, the current lawsuit is the fourth filed by in the last six years against SAG by members of the MembershipFirst group, whose leaders are key plaintiffs in the current suit.

Now, however, the suit will end. The usual procedure is for the plaintiffs and defendant to agree on a settlement agreement, and then to file with the court a stipulation dismissing the case. Until that happens, the suit is technically still live.

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SAG-AFTRA chief administrative officer and general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said “We look forward to the court's dismissal of the complaint.”

That may not be the end of the matter, however. A statement released by the plaintiffs after the judge denied the injunction hinted at possible future litigation: “Assuming the merger passes and benefits decline . . . there is ample information in the record to justify class-action lawsuits against those responsible for inducing ‘yes’ for merger votes.”

The defendants in the current suit, in addition to the union, are SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard, co-secretary-treasurer Amy Aquino and executive vice-president Ned Vaughn, vice-presidents Mike Hodge and David Hartley-Margolin and national executive director David White.

The plaintiffs are Martin Sheen, Edward Asner, Ed Harris, Valerie Harper, Clancy Brown, James Remar, George Coe, Diane Ladd, Lainie Kazan, Nichelle Nichols, Renee Aubry, Jane Austin, Erick Avari, Steve Barr, Sara Barrett, Terrance Beasor, Michael Bell, Warren Berlinger, Joe Bologna, Ralph Brennen, Alexandra Castro, Jude Ciccolella, Cynthia Lea Clark, David Clennon, Joe D’Angerio, Patricia D’Arbanville, Dick Gautier, Dorothy Goulah, Marty Grey, Sumi Haru, Angel Harper, Basil Hoffman, David Huddleston, Anne-Marie Johnson, David Jolliffe, Kerrie Keane, Peter Kwong, Kurt Lott, Barbara Luna, Eric Lutes, Stephen Macht, Michael McConnohie, Peter Antico, Susan McNabb, Phyllis Timbes, Marguerite Moreau, Traci Murray, Nicole Mandich, Larry Newman, Barbara Niven, Kathleen Nolan, Jack Ong, Peggy Lane O’Rourke, Leslie Parrish, Scott Pierce, Robin Riker, Stephanie Rose, Alan Rosenberg, Alan Ruck, Wendy Schaal, Tascha Schaal, Nancy Sinatra, Cynthia Steele, Renee Taylor, Malachi Throne, Beverly Todd, Jessica WrightandMomo Yashima. In addition, there are a number of other clients in the litigation who are not listed as plaintiffs, including Paul Edney.

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