HFPA Beats Claims from Journalist Denied Membership

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Although the case might not be truly finished, a federal judge on Tuesday dismissed legal claims brought by Norwegian entertainment journalist Kjersti Flaa against the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization that conducts the annual Golden Globe Awards.

Flaa, who lives in Los Angeles, is unhappy about being denied membership. She sees the HFPA and its 87 members as a "cartel," monopolizing opportunities to attend industry events and interview "hot" movie stars to the exclusion of other foreign journalists. Her complaint flags behind-the-scenes maneuvering at the tax-exempt organization and raises red flags including alleged non-compete agreements whereby markets and publications are carved up.

The suit raised two main sets of claims.

The first was that HFPA's decision to reject her membership is subject to the right of fair procedure.

U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld rejects such proposition because a fair procedure claim only applies to an organization that's similar to a public service business, and here, Flaa can't demonstrate that the HFPA is a quasi-public entity that deprived her of the ability to practice her profession. At least not in the same way as a labor union that controls jobs or a trade organization that licenses professionals or a health insurer with power to preclude the employment of a physician and so forth.  The judge finds precedent here in an appellate case concerning producers suing over screen credits on the Oscar-winning Crash. As that appellate court once remarked, "It is surely true that... the public is interested in the motion picture industry. That does not mean that industry-related organizations like defendants operate in the public interest.

Blumenfeld also concludes that Flaa hasn't sufficiently alleged that exclusion from the HFPA foreclosed her ability to work as an entertainment reporter. The fact that she has credits working for various publications and producing video news shorts becomes a knock.

As for Flaa's second set of claims, those being premised on various antitrust laws, the Norwegian journalist experiences dismissal but she might not be completely out of the game.

Blumenfeld writes in the opinion (read here) that she has failed to allege sustainable geographic and product markets.

"Plaintiff defines the product market as 'entertainment news,'" writes the judge. "This product description is ambiguous, as she fails to identify the relevant type, source, or medium of entertainment news. She also fails to allege that 'entertainment news,' even if limited to movies and television programs, is not reasonably interchangeable with other forms of entertainment news (e.g., sports, music, literature, and travel)."

Blumenfeld later adds that Flaa attempted to cure deficiencies in a reply brief by stating that the relevant market is reporting on motion pictures. However, the judge won't allow the complaint to be amended this way. So he's dismissing the antitrust claims, but unlike the fair procedure claim,  it's with leave to amend.