Hollywood Docket: CAA Sued by Writer Amid WGA Fight

Plus, legal news involving Showtime, Netflix, Ryan Seacrest and others.
Courtesy of CAA

Amid the war between agents and the WGA, a writer is suing CAA for allegedly failing in its duty to represent him in favor of catering to bigger clients. 

John Musero is suing the agency, along with agents Andrew Miller and Leah Yerushalaim, claiming CAA optioned his work to another company for as little pay as possible and later redeveloped it with another writer client without his knowledge and permission and sold it to a major network.

Musero is a former prosecutor and in-house attorney who worked as a staff writer on HBO's The Newsroom, according to his complaint. In 2014, he signed with Miller and Yerushalaim and soon after submitted a television pilot for a series called Influence. His agents set up a meeting with Storyline Entertainment, another CAA client, but it ultimately passed on the project. Musero claims they didn't shop it to other buyers and drove down its value.  

The bulk of his claim, though, centers on a pilot for a legal drama about the U.S. Attorney General and other top DOJ prosecutors called Main Justice. Musero says he submitted the pilot to his agents in September 2015, and independently shared it with a producer who shared it with the head of TV at The Mark Gordon Company, Nick Pepper. The Dan Jinks company expressed interest in bringing the show to CBS, but Musero thought Gordon's outfit, also a CAA client, was a more attractive buyer. He claims his agents stopped shopping the project while The Mark Gordon Company was mulling its offer, instead of working to drive up competitive bids.

"[I]nstead of playing Pepper and Jinks against each other to increase the price, Miller and Yerushalaim improperly disclosed to Pepper that Musero was waiting on Jinks and CBS to make a competitive cash offer for Main Justice and counseled Pepper to hold off on improving his initial offer," writes attorney Stephen Doniger. "In so doing, defendants shared Musero's confidential communications and negotiation strategies with CAA client The Mark Gordon Company [in order to] drive down the value of Main Justice to the detriment of Musero, but to the benefit of its larger and more profitable client, The Mark Gordon Company."

Gordon's company in 2016 agreed to a one-year option, but Musero claims he wasn't paid for the option or anything other than his first rewrite. His lawyer stepped in, and he was paid for rewrites but had to forfeit his option payment. Musero claims his agents failed to advocate for him as they should have. The option ultimately expired and the rights reverted back to Musero.

In the fall of 2017, it was announced that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Jerry Bruckheimer, a CAA client, were teaming on a drama series called Main Justice to be written by another agency client, Sascha Penn. Musero claims Miller initiated the development of the project and pitched it using Musero's concept.

"By selling a competing project under the same title about the same thing, agent Miller foreclosed any possibility of the prior project he had represented and commissioned, Musero's Main Justice, being sold," writes Doniger. "In so doing, Defendants advantaged its more powerful client, Jerry Bruckheimer and Bruckheimer TV, at the significant expense of its less powerful client, Musero."

Musero is suing for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and breach of contract. 

An attorney for CAA on Wednesday afternoon sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement denying the allegations. "While Mr. Musero has not been a client for some time, CAA protected and advanced his interests when he was a client, and any suggestion that its agents acted improperly is inaccurate," says attorney Craig Holden, who's representing the agency in the matter. "CAA will vigorously defend itself against Mr. Musero’s lawsuit."

In other entertainment legal news:

— Bobby Brown has dropped his lawsuit against Showtime and BBCA over his appearance in the Whitney Houston documentary Can I Be Me? Brown sued in November, claiming the film violated his publicity rights and included footage from the Bravo reality series Being Bobby Brown without permission. Brown on Monday voluntarily dismissed the suit without prejudice. 

— Netflix on Friday was ordered to comply with discovery requests in a lawsuit over Stranger Things. Charlie Kessler in April 2018 sued Matt and Ross Duffer for breach of implied contract, claiming he pitched them his concept for a sci-fi story set near an abandoned military base during an event at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Netflix must turn over unredacted copies of documents it had redacted by Saturday, produce documents from June 2014 through December 2015 and have the person most qualified sit for deposition before April 19. The Duffers in February asked the court to toss the complaint, saying they have proof that they began working on the series well before that meeting. A hearing is currently set for April 8.

— Ryan Seacrest has again defeated a lawsuit from Janice Dickinson over a Shahs of Sunset plot. The former supermodel sued Seacrest in March 2018, claiming the show faked a plot that she wore a silver romper for a fashion show that was supposed to be designated for one of the reality series' castmembers and implied that she was involved with the show. U.S. District Court Judge George Wu on Tuesday granted a motion to dismiss the complaint, finding the episode and related promos were not commercial speech, have "artistic relevance above zero" and are protected by the First Amendment. (He tossed a previous iteration in October.)  The judge declined to exercise jurisdiction with regard to her state claims and dismissed them without prejudice. (Read the full ruling here.)

— Take-Two Interactive will face a pared-down copyright infringement lawsuit over tattoos in video games, as an Ohio federal judge on March 21 granted in part its motion to dismiss. Tattooist to NBA stars James Hayden in December 2017 sued the gamemaker, claiming the digital recreation of ink he designed for LeBron James and others in the NBA 2K series violates his rights in the artistic works. U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko dismissed Hayden's claim for unjust enrichment, finding it is pre-empted by the Copyright Act. He denied Take-Two's motion to dismiss his request for statutory damages and reserved judgment on the issue of whether each annual release of the game constituted a separate act of infringement. (Read the decision here.)

— Iliza Shlesinger has beat a host of claims in connection with a Nov. 13, 2017, show at Largo at the Coronet called "Girls Night In With Iliza — No Boys Allowed." Claims for civil rights violation and discrimination will move forward. George St. George in December 2017 sued the comedian and venue after he was denied entry to her show and was told it was because of his gender. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lisa Hart Cole on March 20 sustained Shlesinger's demurrer in part. She also granted a motion to strike allegations regarding discrimination against females and based on sexual orientation, without leave to amend.

March 27, 2:20 p.m. Updated with a statement from CAA's attorney.