California Judge Shoots Down Challenge to Talent Agencies Act

Hollywood talent managers suffered a letdown on Tuesday when a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the Talent Agencies Act, the California law that says only licensed talent agents can procure employment for clients.

The TAA was adopted by the California legislature in 1978 after decades of predecessor laws governing agents. It has been a nuisance to many talent managers who do work for clients, then attempt to enforce promises on commissions, only to have themselves subjected to the California Labor Commissioner for wrongfully procuring work for a client without a license. Hollywood artists from Arsenio Hall to Ke$ha have used it to escape paying commissions.

The National Conference of Personal Managers hoped to change the status quo by bringing a lawsuit in November that challenged the constitutionality of the TAA, but U.S. District Court judge Dean Pregerson on Tuesday rejected each of the plaintiffs' arguments.

The personal managers group objected to the "vagueness of the TAA," a statute they believed didn't instruct the Labor Commissioner with much specificity on allowances and limits in the enforcement. As a result, the group of managers say the TAA hasn't provided them with parameters on what they could or couldn't do for clients, thus violating their due process.

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Judge Pregerson accepts that the restrictions can "comprise a broad range of activities, broader than is desirable in the eyes of Plaintiff."

The judge says "this breadth does not render the statute standardless," but that even if it was, "California courts have previously interpreted the phrase ['procure employment'] and determined that its meaning is not vague."

The personal managers also objected to the TAA on the basis of the Thirteenth Amendment, saying that it was a form of "involuntary servitude" to work and then be denied a commission.

"Not being compensated for work performed does not inevitably make that work involuntary servitude," the judge responds. "Plaintiff's members have choices. They have the choice to refrain from procuring employment for their clients, to procure employment without a license and risk the voiding of parts of their contracts, or to obtain a license."

Next comes the objection from the personal managers that the TAA is a violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution since it "deprives out-of-state personal managers access to the California talent market on equal terms."

Judge Pregerson finds the inference of commerce interference to be "weak" and "implausible," saying that the allegation that a license must contain a designation of location doesn't add up to an allegation that the plaintiff's members were refused licenses because they were located outside of California.

The personal managers group objected to the TAA on First Amendment grounds too, but the judge finds that the statute "regulates conduct, not speech." And lastly, the plaintiffs objected to a law that impaired contractual obligations, but the judge says that only comes into play when a law is enacted after the formation of a contract.

For all those reasons, the judge finds that the National Conference of Personal Managers have failed to state a claim. The lawsuit is dismissed, and the plaintiffs have the option of an appeal.

Here's the full decision.

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