Hollywood Docket: Insane Clown Posse’s Lawsuit Against the FBI Revived On Appeal

Insane Clown Posse Press Conference - H 2013
AP Images

Insane Clown Posse Press Conference - H 2013

It'll be ICP and ACLU versus DOJ and FBI in court again following an appellate ruling Thursday reviving the controversial rap group Insane Clown Posse's lawsuit over a 2011 report from the Bureau calling their fans a gang.

The Detroit duo of Joseph Bruce (or "Violent J") and Joseph Utsler ("Shaggy 2 Dope") play music often called "horrorcore" but which sometimes includes Christian themes (their 2009 song "Miracles" went viral). They might be best known for their devoted fans, who refer to themselves as "juggalos" and wear the duo’s iconic facepaint. The Gathering of the Juggalos festival draws thousands and in 2015 included a Juggalo wedding.

In the report, the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center calls the Juggalos "a loosely-organized hybrid gang" that "exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence."

Bruce, Utsler and four Juggalos sued in 2014 with help from the American Civil Liberties Union. They say the report led to infringement on their rights to free speech and harassment by government officials, with two plaintiffs, Brandon Bradley and Mark Parsons, alleging police detained them for displaying Juggalo iconography.

The Department of Justice got the lawsuit dismissed months later. In Michigan judge Robert Cleland’s ruling, Cleland found the case problematic because the report did not directly order police and other officials to any particular action against the Juggalos. "Five of the six Plaintiffs complain of independent actions by third-parties who are not currently before the court," he wrote.

The Juggalos appealed. In the Thursday ruling, the court agrees the case should return to the trial court.

It doesn't matter the local police detained Bradley and Parsons without direct orders from the FBI, says the court. "The fact that an injury is indirect does not destroy standing," writes judge Edmund Sargus. "The allegation that a defendant’s conduct was a motivating factor in the third party’s injurious actions satisfies the requisite standard."

Plus, the court agrees with the Juggalos that the detainments represent "concrete reputational injuries," though they side with the DOJ in finding the report did not "chill" the Juggalos' freedom of speech.

The DOJ argued the court shouldn't judge the case because it couldn’t provide the Juggalos any real relief from the report's effects. Not so, finds the appellate court, which agrees with the Juggalos an order declaring the report unlawful "would likely combat at least some future risk that they would be subjected to reputational harm and chill due to the force of the DOJ’s criminal gang or gang-like designation." (Read the full ruling).

The Hollywood Reporter has requested comment from the Department of Justice.

The Insane Clown Posse took to Twitter following the win:

In other entertainment law news...

—While Donald Trump is on the campaign trail, his legal team continues a recent dispute with the owner of www.trumpestates.com. Scott Stephens apparently bought the address in 2004 and put it up for sale on eBay, prompting Trump to file for arbitration by the World Intellectual Property Organization in March. In May, the WIPO ordered the domain name returned to the Donald. But before the decision, Stephens sued for a court declaration the domain name does not infringe Trump’s copyrights and alleges Trump defamed him by calling him a "cyber squatter."

In a motion to dismiss the case Wednesday, Trump's attorneys argue Stephens provides insufficient proof Trump's statements harmed him — and the statements were true. "Plaintiff readily admits in the Complaint he is in the business of buying and selling domain names — the very definition of a 'cyber squatter,' " states the motion (read here).

—Village People singer Victor Willis scored an important win in March when a jury found he could claim 50 percent ownership of 13 the group’s songs (including "Y.M.C.A.") out of 24 he sought to regain from publishers Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions. The publishers sued in 2011 when Willis requested termination of their control over the songs.

In likely the first instance of an artist collecting attorney’s fees after defeating a termination lawsuit, the judge granted Willis' full request of $527,235.84 Tuesday. "The Court does not find that [the publishers] acted frivolously or with an improper motive," writes judge Barry Ted Moskowitz, but "an award of attorney’s fees is justified to encourage authors like Willis to assert their rights to regain their copyright interests" (read the ruling).

The publishers' lawyer Stewart Levy says he will appeal the fees. "It's so entirely contradictory," he tells THR. "How can you award dollar for dollar when we won 11 out of 24 songs? How can you award dollar for dollar when you say our positions aren't frivolous, when there was no ill motive? I don't get it."

—Two parking attendants say the producers in charge of TV sets where they worked used "Hollywood accounting" to shortchange their wages. Corey Leach and Anthony Jacob filed class actions this week against the producers of The Blacklist (NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures Television, Central Casting, John Davis and Woodridge Productions) and The Following (Warner Bros., Bonanza and creator Kevin Williamson's Outerbanks) claiming they violated the Federal Labor Standards Act and New York labor laws by not paying the attendants for overtime beyond the 40-hour work week (sometimes for shifts so long without interruption they went to the bathroom in their cars, according to the complaints). The producers manipulated the hours reported on attendants' paychecks so their wages "would total a pre-determined budget allotment" regardless of overtime pay, they say.

Their attorney James Vagnini tells THR they are considering other litigation over the "long history of this practice." Sony, Central Casting, Davis and Warner Bros. declined to comment. THR has requested comment from the other defendants.