12:10pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Judge Allows $900 Million 'Conjuring' Lawsuit Against Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. has failed in its first effort to escape a $900 million lawsuit brought over the smash hit Conjuring franchise, which explores the spooky work of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. A Virginia judge has largely rejected the studio's motion to dismiss and has tentatively scheduled a trial for April 16.
The lawsuit comes from Gerald Brittle, who published a book about the Warrens in 1980 titled The Demonologist.
In his lawsuit, Brittle alleges he had an agreement with the Warrens that prohibited them from entering into a motion picture deal without his consent. Brittle also claims exclusive rights to use Warren case files. Despite allegedly knowing about this, Warner Bros. and the New Line affiliate are alleged to have entered into deals with the Warrens beginning in the 1990s for a film based on their lives and Brittle's book. He further alleges that in 2011, Lorraine Warren would again make a movie deal, and that The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle are based on the Warren case files and The Demonologist. Brittle is claiming copyright infringement, trespass to chattels, conversion, conspiracy and more.
Warner Bros. has answered the lawsuit by arguing that no one has a monopoly to tell stories about true-life figures and events, and raising other issues including statute of limitations. The studio also suggested that if the judge couldn't find that Brittle had failed to state proper claims, the dispute should at least be moved to arbitration.
U.S. District Court Judge John Gibney Jr. isn't swayed.
"The Court declines the parties' invitation to wade into the truth or falsity of the Warrens' paranormal escapades or to parse the resulting similiarities between the works at this stage of the case," he writes. "This type of analysis, which bears on evidence presented and factual determinations, is better suited for summary judgment or trial."
Similarly, Gibney is also allowing for now the non-copyright state-based claims with word that more factual development is needed.
The judge has rejected a Lanham Act claim based on misrepresentations in the advertising of The Conjuring, and has also dismissed RatPac-Dune Entertainment and various individuals involved for lack of personal jurisdiction.
But Warner Bros. isn't going to get out of a public airing about this dispute as it has been ruled the claims aren't subject to arbitration.