6:36am PT by Eriq Gardner
'Fast and the Furious' Producer Gets Universal President Added to Spinoff Lawsuit
Universal Pictures president James Horowitz must defend the claim that he lured Neal Moritz into work on a Fast and Furious spinoff with false representations about first-dollar gross participation. On Thursday, a federal judge in California allowed Moritz to amend this complaint and then remanded the case to state court.
Moritz sued Universal in October over the upcoming Hobbs and Shaw spinoff starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. He takes credit for being one of the driving forces behind the Fast and Furious blockbuster franchise and says he devoted quite amount of time on Hobbs and Shaw before the studio allegedly backed away from an oral agreement despite written agreements that he says entitled him to participate in sequels or remakes.
Universal wants to have the dispute arbitrated.
Moritz not only denies any basis for arbitration but has aimed to get the case before a state judge.
Universal argued that an attempt to add Horowitz to the lawsuit amounted to "gamesmanship and forum shopping" since Universal's president, as a California citizen, would strip the diversity of parties required to establish jurisdiction in federal court.
But U.S. District Court Manuel Real sees enough in a proposed amended complaint to warrant Horowitz' inclusion.
Among other reasons, the judge accepts Moritz' explanation for not originally naming the studio executive in the first complaint. The plaintiff says that the parties were still in settlement negotiations and to preserve a long relationship with hopes of resolution, Horowitz wasn't originally a defendant.
That changed later when Universal took the case from state to federal court and moved for arbitration. Now, Moritz alleges that Horowitz promised a Hobbs and Shaw deal would be modeled after Fast and Furious deals from earlier films. Under those arrangements, Moritz got $2 million in fixed compensation against a 6 percent gross participation, dictated by a specific formula. Moritz says it was enough for him to work on all aspects of the forthcoming spinoff for a year and a half.
"Plaintiff’s fraud claim against Horowitz seems valid," writes Real in the decision. "To bring a lawsuit for promissory fraud, a litigant must allege that the defendant made a promise that it did not intend to perform at the time the promise was made, that the defendant made the promise with the intent to deceive and/or induce the plaintiff to do or not do a particular thing, and (3) the plaintiff relied on the false promise, which resulted in damages to the plaintiff. Here, while this Court makes no comment as to the merits of Plaintiff’s claim, it does acknowledge that Plaintiff has stated all of the required elements against Defendant, including Horowitz, with requisite particularity."
The judge doesn't reach Universal's arguments the dispute should be arbitrated. That bid will next be handled by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.