10:33am PT by Austin Siegemund-Broka
'Goodfellas' Actor Loses $250M Lawsuit Against Fox Over 'Simpsons' Mob Character
Frank Sivero, who played mobsters in Goodfellas and The Godfather Part II, sued Fox in October with the intriguing claim The Simpsons copied his likeness for a mob character named Louie.
Now Sivero's suit sleeps with the fishes.
In a Los Angeles Superior Court hearing Thursday, judge Rita Miller granted Fox’s motion to strike the complaint on the basis of California’s anti-SLAPP law. The statute requires a plaintiff who challenges a work of free speech to demonstrate the likeliness of prevailing on his claims.
In the lawsuit, Sivero said the Louie character had similar characteristics to him that were not typical of other mob characters, including his curly hair and the shape of his sideburns. His opposition to the motion included the opinion of caricaturist Dominic Arneson that the character and Sivero are similar.
The judge disagreed. "If I was a teenage girl and I had a crush on your client, would I be satisfied with a pin-up of the character Louie?" she asked.
"Probably," replied Sivero's attorney Alex Herrera. He argued the character's similarity to Sivero constituted a factual question fit for a jury. Judge Miller found her own evaluation of the character's similarity to Sivero relevant to whether the claims could withstand the SLAPP motion. She decided they could not.
Furthermore, the judge sided with Fox that the character constituted a parody of mob characters, and therefore was a "transformative use" protected against likeness rights claims. "Even if Mr. Sivero's face was on [the character], as long as it's parody and has other characteristics discussed in the tentative, you can’t win," said the judge.
The hearing did not address Sivero's claim of misappropriation of ideas. In the motion to strike, Fox argued misappropriation of ideas required plaintiff to establish he would offer his idea under a contract. Sivero in his opposition claimed he had formed an implied contract with the Simpsons producers in discussions about future work.
The actor claimed in his lawsuit his purported resemblance to the character was not coincidence. He said in 1989, when he was developing his character for Goodfellas, he lived in a Sherman Oaks apartment complex right next door to writers of The Simpsons, leading them to base the character of Louie on him. He said he later he spoke numerous times with Simpsons co-creator James L. Brooks about working together, an idea to which he said Brooks responded favorably.
The Louie character has appeared in 15 Simpsons episodes to date and appeared in The Simpsons Movie and Simpsons video games, leading Sivero to ask $250 million in damages. The suit originally targeted Fox Television Studios and 21st Century Fox America, but in March they were dismissed and Sivero took up claims only against Twentieth Century Fox Film.
His interference with prospective economic advantage and unjust enrichment claims depended on the first three claims, so they were dismissed with the rest of the suit.
"I think the judge had her mind made up and clearly relied on information she should not have relied on," said Herrera outside the courtroom. He mentioned a possible appeal in the hearing, but declined to comment further.
Robert Rotstein of Mitchell Silberberg represented Fox.
Aug. 6, 10:41 p.m. Updated with details on the hearing throughout.