Damon Dash Moves Forward in Lawsuit Against 'Butler' Director Lee Daniels

The hip-hop mogul details why he is entitled to credits, ownership and compensation on Daniels' film and TV projects
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Lee Daniels

More details have emerged in Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash's lawsuit against Lee Daniels over the Oscar-nominated filmmaker's work on such films as The Butler, Precious, The Paperboy, The Woodsman, Shadowboxer and Tennessee.

As we noted in August, Dash filed a summons that outlined his claims of having written and oral agreements with Daniels. On Monday in New York Superior Court, Dash followed up with an actual complaint that provides the basis for why Dash thinks himself entitled to credits, ownership and millions of dollars in compensation.

Dash's lawsuit confirms reports that the dispute dates back to $2 million allegedly given by the hip-hop mogul so that Daniels could produce The Woodsman, which starred Kevin Bacon as a convicted child molester adjusting to life after prison.

Through a mutual acquaintance — publicist Marvet Britto — Dash says he was introduced to Daniels. In return for $2 million, Dash says he got a written agreement that gave him executive producer credits, 50 percent of rights on the film, and a guarantee that the investment would be repaid with interest from Daniels.

Dash says he attempted to ensure the film's success by traveling around the country to promote The Woodsman, and bringing along celebrities like Kanye West to perform at venues where the film's ads would run. The movie came out in 2005, and afterward, Dash says he didn't get a response to his request for an accounting.

Instead of repayment, Dash says he got another offer from Lee.

According to the complaint, "The terms of this offer were as follows: Lee asked Damon to forego [sic] seeking repayment of the $2,000,000.00 from 'The Woodsman' proceeds, and in its stead, roll-over the $2,000,000.00 into another one of Lee’s films, which was eventually to be produced and distributed under the name Shadowboxer.”

Another written agreement is said to have come, and Dash says he reinvested the $2 million into Shadowboxer, which wasn't nearly the critical success of Daniels' prior film. Dash says he "was expressly told to take a back seat" on the promotion of this film, and after it came out in 2005, he wasn't able to get an accounting on that film either.

Instead, Lee is said to have communicated another offer through his agent, Michael McConnell, that "in exchange for keeping quiet about being owed money, to avoid bad press in light of Lee’s upcoming projects, and foregoing [sic] prompt payment on the personal guaranty, Lee, and Lee Daniels Entertainment, promised Damon, both orally, and in writing, that Damon would be given a producer credit and partial ownership rights to any and all of Lee’s projects — i.e., current and future TV shows and/or films — until Lee paid Damon back the $2,000,000.00 plus interest that Damon had originally invested with Lee."

Dash says he accepted the offer, then put in a good word about Lee to Tennessee's allegedly reluctant investors and personally reassured the film's cast, including Mariah Carey.

The plaintiff asserts that because the debt is still outstanding, that films such as Precious, The Paperboy and The Butler are covered under the terms of the agreement. Plus, the obligations are allegedly ongoing. One project mentioned is a television show titled Empire from Lee and Brian Grazer that's said to be slated to air on Fox in late 2014 or earlier 2015.

Daniels' legal team responds, "Regrettably, it’s easy to make allegations. Proving the allegations is a different story, and the precise reason why the judicial system exists. Mr. Daniels looks forward to the Court’s scrutiny of the merits of Mr. Dash’s misguided claims."

Below is the full complaint filed by attorney Natraj Bhushan. It is also directed at Canyon Entertainment president Simone Sheffield for allegedly defaming Dash. At one point, Sheffield allegedly stated Dash was going to jail. Sheffield is also reported to have left a "disturbing voice mail" for Dash's attorney that was saved. Not much detail is provided on that.

Daniels is represented by James Sammataro at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner