California Appeals Court Nixes New Trial for 'Survivor' Consultant

Mark Burnett's former partner, Conrad Riggs, appears to win an important round in his long-running dispute with Layne Leslie Britton over cash from "Survivor" and Donald Trump's "Apprentice."
Screen Grab/CBS

CBS' Survivor has been on the air since 2000 and has enjoyed 37 seasons, but virtually this entire century there's been off-screen legal drama involving the folks who created the path-breaking reality series and worked on its financial structure. On Thursday, a California appellate court weighed in with the latest development that heads off a new trial after a prior one was conducted two years ago — and because this dispute involves some of the same executives who also created NBC's The Apprentice, there's of course a tenuous Donald Trump connection.

The series about a group of strangers in an isolated location is executive produced by Mark Burnett, who once was business partners with Conrad Riggs. After Survivor began airing with tremendous success, Burnett and CBS engaged in arbitration over compensation before arriving at a settlement. A few years later, Riggs sued Burnett with a $70 million claim alleging being owed for helping sell Survivor to CBS and The Apprentice to NBC. That case also settled, but it wasn't the end to the drama.

That's because another television executive named Layne Leslie Britton then sued Riggs with claims of providing consulting services for Riggs and Burnett and helping create the innovative financial structure for Survivor. Britton alleged being owed $14 million. Riggs countersued that Britton was working as an attorney, that his contingency agreement should be void and that he should be held liable for professional negligence and breach of fiduciary duties. Britton was able to overcome those counterclaims only for Riggs' company, Cloudbreak Entertainment, to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy on the eve of trial.

Britton was nevertheless able to get to trial, but a jury only awarded him $490,000 in damages after finding that the statute of limitations had passed on much of the compensation owed for his early work.

A motion was made for a new trial, and the trial judge granted it on the grounds that the jury award was inadequate and inconsistent with a finding of liability. At the same time, the judge made a couple of other rulings, including that the jury's verdict was ambiguous as to whether the liability finding applied to Cloudbreak only or to both Cloudbreak and Riggs.

Both Britton and Riggs appealed various aspects of what had occurred at the trial court — and the big determination yesterday by a California appeals court was that Britton had prematurely made a motion for a new trial before all the other issues in the case had been decided. As such, Britton's bid for a new trial is reversed. Here's the full ruling.

Meanwhile, Cloudbreak is still in bankruptcy, and with claims on the debtor's estate asserted by Britton and Riggs' ex-wife, has been waiting this appellate decision for clarity on the issue of what is owed. Cloudbreak has also submitted a plan of reorganization which contemplates drawing from Survivor and Apprentice financial participation.

Then again, at least one of those shows isn't really returning much cash these days, and if Britton is limited to $490K, that could make the new appellate decision welcome relief for the debtor.

At a hearing earlier this year, an attorney for Cloudbreak explained the shortfall in funds stating, "Apprentice has not been re-upped, I think, for several cycles now. I think it was a ratings disaster with our former governor, and unless our President resigns to go back on reality TV, Apprentice is probably done."