CAA Moves to Oust Writers Guild From Lawsuit Over Lack of Standing

CAA_Building _ Sunrise- CAA Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of CAA

CAA on Thursday filed a motion in a California state court seeking to boot the Writers Guild of America from its own litigation on the grounds that the organization has no standing to sue over conduct relating to individual members and that each instance of packaging involves distinct circumstances that preclude a class-action type approach.

If successful, the motion, called a demurrer, would leave only eight individual plaintiffs asserting various claims against CAA and three other large agencies — WME, UTA and ICM Partners — and even at that, there might be little left, as the agency also filed a motion to strike an unprecedented bribery claim from the litigation, as well as filing papers alleging that individual plaintiffs consented to packaging.

A hearing is set for Sept. 5. The WGA need not file a reply to CAA’s motions until two weeks before the hearing, with CAA then having a week to respond. Meanwhile, the other three agencies are expected to file their own motions by June 24. And although CAA did not bring counterclaims against the WGA, that agency could yet bring separate, affirmative claims. The WGA’s complaint is not a class action, but involves something similar: an organization asserting associational standing in order to bring claims on its many members’ behalf. But the devil is in the details.

“Associational standing … requires that the WGA demonstrate that ‘neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit,’” says a CAA legal brief, quoting a California case. “The WGA’s First Amended Complaint fails this test. The WGA’s burden to prove that CAA breached a fiduciary duty or committed constructive fraud as to individual members of the WGA necessarily requires individualized proof and participation in the lawsuit from each of the allegedly harmed writers to whom duties were owed.”

As examples of the individualized issues, the brief continues, “Each WGA member would need to prove that each accused CAA agent engaged in a breach of duty, by concealing information about packaging that was otherwise unknown to that WGA member, relating to the packaged television program at issue. Further, CAA is entitled to obtain evidence concerning each member’s knowledge of and consent to packaging fees and to present individual defenses to such a claim, including that the member waived any such claim, suffered no causally-related damage, or that the statute of limitations has expired. Thus, the WGA’s claims that CAA agents breached duties to their WGA-member clients necessarily raise a host of individual issues as to each WGA member that requires each member’s participation in the lawsuit.”

Beyond fiduciary duty and constructive fraud, the WGA’s third claim is a California unfair competition claim based on a federal statute aimed at preventing employers from bribing union officials. But CAA attacks that as well, on the grounds that packaging fees aren’t bribes and talent agencies aren’t unions. In addition, any state claim in this realm is preempted, says CAA, by the federal statute.

As to the individual plaintiffs, CAA previously filed an answer on June 6 arguing that David Simon’s and Meredith Stiehm’s claims were “preposterous,” because Simon had signed a settlement agreement 19 years ago and because Stiehm was aware and had repeatedly consented to packaging. In a new answer, CAA deflects claims from other individual plaintiffs as well.