Hollywood Docket: 'Luck' Horse Deaths Lawsuit Settled

Luck Animal Feature - H 2013

Luck Animal Feature - H 2013

Two and a half years after HBO canceled its horse-racing drama Luck in the wake of several horses’ deaths during production, the former American Humane Association employee who sued the organization over its supervision of the series has settled her case.

Barbara Casey sued in January 2013, claiming the AHA had fired her for complaining of animal abuse while working on the Luck set as the organization’s director of production in its film and TV unit. She alleged that AHA, which holds a trademark on the "No Animals Were Harmed" stamp that appears on film and TV credits, had become cozy with the David Milch-Michael Mann drama’s producers. The organization had terminated her for pushing to increase animal safety on set and report criminal mistreatment, she alleges.

But her case didn’t just target her former employer. She included claims against HBO and Luck producer Stewart Productions, alleging they attempted to interfere with the AHA’s oversight of the production. Further, she claimed the companies aided and abetted the AHA in wrongfully terminating her.

Those claims ran into trouble, with HBO and Stewart arguing there is no such cause of action as aiding and abetting a wrongful termination. (Only one case had ever brought such a cause, HBO’s attorney Jolene Konnersman argued, and a California court had dismissed it in 1996.) Los Angeles Superior Court judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis was inclined to agree with HBO in a hearing last year.

In February, Casey dropped her claims against HBO and Stewart, but her far-reaching accusations against the AHA remained in play.

Her amended complaint, filed before she removed HBO and Stewart from the suit, claimed the AHA was liable for "a repeated pattern and practice of concealing animal deaths and injuries as a matter of course." The new complaint included photographs of dead and injured animals she claimed had been harmed on AHA-monitored sets and allegations of harm to animals on other films and TV shows, including alleged deaths of horses and other animals on Steven Spielberg's War Horse and Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The complaint led to scrutiny of the AHA, including an investigation by The Hollywood Reporter. "We absolutely and categorically deny the sensationalist, inflammatory, misleading and untrue allegations in Ms. Casey's amended complaint," the AHA responded in a statement.

Casey and the AHA have now reached a settlement. No terms of the agreement were revealed.

In other entertainment law news…

  • Condé Nast has defeated a lawsuit sparked by Vogue’s Kanye West-Kim Kardashian cover. Ricky Spicer’s case was similar to his ongoing litigation against the Yeezus rapper in which he claims West’s hit single "Bound 2" samples his vocals on the soul song "Bound" without authorization or compensation. "Bound 2" found its way into a promotional video for the April 2014 Vogue cover, and Spicer sued the publisher for unjust enrichment and violation of his likeness rights. In a Wednesday ruling, the New York State Supreme Court agreed with Spicer that the sample was used without proper authorization. But the court dismissed Spicer’s case, siding with Condé that the song’s use was newsworthy and didn’t constitute advertising for Vogue, and therefore didn’t qualify for Spicer’s causes of action.
  • Lionsgate and its subsidiary Summit have beaten an ambitious lawsuit filed by the producer of a Twilight parody film. Behind the Lines productions claimed in May 2013 that the "sham" cease-and-desist notices Summit sent it regarding Twiharder violated anti-trust laws and represented "predatory conduct." The production company’s 219-page, $500-million complaint was defanged in pre-trial proceedings, with only one cause of action remaining after a hearing in October — a complicated claim that malice and not economic interest motivated Summit’s cease-and-desist notices. On Monday, California federal judge Manuel Real staked the case through the heart with a dismissal of the remaining $6.5 million claim.
  • The legal battle between Kesha and music producer Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald has spun off a new lawsuit about another pop star — Lady Gaga — via tweets by Kesha’s attorney Mark Geragos. Geragos filed the bombshell allegations in October that Gottwald, whose hits include Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” and Katy Perry’s “Roar” as well as Kesha’s “Tik Tok,” had raped and emotionally abused the singer. (The producer has responded with a defamation complaint against Kesha and a motion to dismiss.) But when Lady Gaga revealed in an interview with Howard Stern last week that she was raped as a teenager, Geragos tweeted, “Guess who the rapists [sic] was?” Another user tweeted “Lukasz” at him, and he responded "#bingo." Gottwald on Monday filed a defamation suit against Geragos, claiming the tweets were “fueled by his insatiable desire for attention and malice toward the Plaintiff." Geragos' reps have not responded to Billboard’s request for comment. 

Email: Austin.Siegemund-Broka@THR.com
Twitter: @Asiegemundbroka