11:56am PT by Ashley Cullins
'Duck Dynasty' Co-Creators' Claims Narrowed Ahead of ITV Trial
Duck Dynasty co-creators Scott and Deirdre Gurney have been dealt a setback ahead of an upcoming trial over control of Gurney Productions as a California appeals court has stripped their complaint of allegations related to a series of 2016 board meetings that led to them being fired from the company.
ITV in 2012 paid $40 million for a majority stake in Gurney Productions, before allegedly finding evidence of misconduct and firing the couple. Meanwhile, the Gurneys claim they were extorted and forced out. Dueling lawsuits resulted.
This is the second trip to the California court of appeal for the Gurneys and ITV. In 2017, the appellate court partially overturned a decision that granted the Gurneys a preliminary injunction, which gave them autonomy over day-to-day operations of the company. The decision also reinforced the Gurneys' rights as board members and stopped ITV from completing its buyout of the remaining shares of the company.
Then, ITV filed an anti-SLAPP motion asking the court to toss the parts of the Gurneys' cross-complaint that it alleged arose from 2016 settlement negotiations. The trial court denied the motion, and now the appeals court is again reversing that court's decision.
During a Dec. 5, 2016, meeting, ITV board members alleged the Gurneys had been engaging in self-dealing with regard to the rights of a TV series called Northern Territories, that they had used $850,000 in company funds for personal expenses and that they poached talent from Gurney Productions to work at their new company. ITV offered the Gurneys a $33 million buyout in exchange for an agreement to release all claims. The couple refused and the litigation followed.
In August 2017, ITV asked the court to strike the Gurneys' allegations related to that Dec. 5 meeting and a second one that was held a few days later, arguing that they constituted protected activity. Those allegations against ITV include manufacturing false allegations about the Gurneys to damage their reputations and pressure them to sell their remaining stake in the company at a deflated price, giving them a false agenda for the reason for the Dec. 5 meeting and failing to sufficiently consider the arguments they presented at a Dec. 8 meeting.
ITV argued those two meetings were settlement negotiations, and the appellate court agreed that the $33 million buyout offer was undoubtedly a settlement proposal.
"Regardless of whether the term 'settlement' was used, it is impossible to understand the offer as anything else," writes Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild in the opinion, which is posted in full below. "The ITV board members presented the Gurneys with a settlement offer, at a time when ITV was actually contemplating and seriously considering litigation."
The panel further found that the Gurneys' allegations were based on that protected activity and that they cannot show a probability of prevailing on their claims because the litigation privilege is absolute. The only mentions of those meetings that will be allowed to remain in the complaint are those relevant to show ITV didn't provide the Gurneys with notice of their alleged breaches or the opportunity to cure them.
“The appellate ruling was a non-event," the Gurneys' lawyer Michael Weinstein said to The Hollywood Reporter. "The appellate court struck some ancillary language in the complaint that has no impact at all on the primary claims or damages being sought by the Gurneys. My clients are proceeding expeditiously to trial with their case fully in tact.”
Trial is currently set to begin March 12.