Hollywood Docket: 'Billions' Battle Could Be Back On

The performance coach who sued Showtime claiming a character was based on her is trying to revive her lawsuit — plus Hollywood legal news involving 'This Is Spinal Tap,' Macy Gray, Steve McQueen, Kim Kardashian West and more.
Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME

The legal fight between Showtime and a hedge fund performance coach who says a Billions character was based on her may be back on, as she's asking the court to reconsider its dismissal of her complaint.

Denise Shull in January sued the network, claiming the character of Wendy Rhoades (Maggie Siff) has its roots in her book Market Mind Games and that she helped series co-creator Andrew Ross Sorkin develop the character and was never compensated. U.S. District Judge George Daniels in October tossed the complaint, finding that the women weren't substantially similar and neither is the nature of the works (one is an academic book that uses fiction to ease reader comprehension and the other is a series about the "age old trifecta of money, power and sex").

Now, Shull is asking Daniels to vacate his judgment and allow her to file an amended complaint, arguing that the court relied heavily on the defendants' version of events instead of accepting as true the facts Shull alleged as required in considering a motion to dismiss.

Shull's attorney Roseanne Felicello argues the court also misapplied copyright law and failed to consider the sequence of events in the two works and the interplay of characters.

"Further, the Court erred in determining that a female performance coach working in-house in a fictional hedge fund is a 'stock character,'" writes Felicello. "Both 'Wendy' on Billions and 'Denise' in Market Mind Games are more than two-dimensional characters. It is the similarity of their professional techniques, and how unique and unconventional they are in the field of performance coaching that demonstrates that 'Wendy' was derived from the character of 'Denise.'"

This time around, Shull is replacing her claim for violation of her right to privacy with a false endorsement claim and asks that her claim for misappropriation be remanded to state court. She also included several examples of people who made unsolicited comments noting that the character of Wendy was based on her, largely in the form of tweets. (Read the filing here.)

In other entertainment legal news:

— Kim Kardashian West is suing the makers of a selfie beauty app for using her image without permission to promote their product. The reality star turned beauty mogul on Oct. 30 filed a complaint for misappropriation of common law right of publicity against iHandy and Taplogic over the Sweet Cam photo editor. She says the app makers took a photo from her Instagram feed and used it to promote their product. See the pic and read the full complaint here.

— The "Christian Grammys" are set for later this month, but not if the Recording Academy has any say in it. It's not an official Grammy-related event and organizers have ignored demands to change the name, according to a lawsuit filed Oct. 31 in California federal court. The Academy is suing organizers of the so-called Christian Grammy Awards for trademark infringement, unfair competition, false advertising and cybersquatting, among other claims. It argues the awards ceremony, which is set for Nov. 21, is an attempt to unlawfully profit from its "internationally famous" Grammy brand.

— In other Recording Academy news, the organization has reached a settlement with a 75-year-old former employee of its affiliated nonprofits who alleges she was fired from a "boys club" after criticizing the MusiCares CEO's business decisions. Dana Tomarken sued in February alleging wrongful termination, sex and age discrimination and retaliation. In August, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the Academy couldn't force Tomarken into arbitration and found that the employment agreement she signed was unconscionable. The parties last month asked to push back a case management conference to allow for a private mediation on Oct. 7. Tomarken filed a request for dismissal with prejudice on Oct. 22.

— Charlie Rose has evaded a claim for retaliation, but must otherwise face a harassment suit from three former employees. Sydney McNeal, Katherine Brooks Harris and Chelsea Wei sued the former news anchor, claiming they were subjected to unwanted touching that male colleagues didn't experience. New York Supreme Court Judge Doris Ling-Cohan largely denied Rose's motion to dismiss, but agreed the women failed to state a claim for retaliation. She found Wei's allegations were directed at CBS, which settled its claims, and that McNeal and Harris can't show they were terminated for any reason other than CBS fired Rose and PBS canceled Charlie Rose and "there was no longer any work for them."

— The creators of 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap have reached a settlement with Universal Music Group. Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner sued Vivendi, Studiocanal and UMG, claiming they were shorted profits. They also filed a termination notice with the U.S. Copyright Office in an effort to reclaim their rights to the characters, sound recordings and musical compositions in the film. The copyright termination issue was the only claim remaining against UMG after several others were dismissed. "Under the agreement, Spinal Tap's recordings will continue to be distributed through UMG and eventually the rights will be given to the creators," a Tuesday announcement stated. "The parties look forward to making these beloved recordings available to existing and new Spinal Tap fans for years to come." Their claims against Vivendi and Studiocanal are still pending.

— Macy Gray has voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit she filed in March against her booking agent at ICM over her European tour shortfall.

— Steve McQueen's son has settled a lawsuit against Tom Ford over its "McQueen" sweaters. Chadwick McQueen, who controls his father's rights of publicity and trademark rights along with City National Bank, sued in March claiming the designer cardigans infringed on those rights.

— The lawsuit alleging Iliza Shlesinger's females-only show "Girls Night In with Iliza — No Boys Allowed" was a "war on men" is in the final stages of settlement. Lawrence Pollister in December 2017 sued the comedian and Largo at the Coronet after he and a friend were turned away from the venue after buying tickets to the performance. The parties informed the court in August they had reached a settlement, and on Oct. 3 submitted a joint status report indicating Pollster was reviewing an agreement draft. A hearing for preliminary review of the settlement is set for Dec. 6.