Judge Declines to Order LMNO to Hand Over '7 Little Johnstons' Footage to Discovery

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Courtesy of TLC

Discovery Communications' first attempt to obtain season-two footage of the reality series 7 Little Johnstons has failed. 

The cable giant is caught up in a complicated legal dispute with LMNO Cable Group, the producer of many TLC shows including The Little Couple, Killer Confessions, Unusual Suspects, Bipolar Mysteries, Insane Bathrooms, Surreal Estate and more. LMNO accuses Discovery of taking advantage of alleged treachery by its former accountant to steal its shows, while Discovery contends it has been systemically defrauded by LMNO via inflated production costs for these shows.

In September, the fight focused on 7 Little Johnstons, a show about a family of achondroplasia dwarfs that was specially commissioned by Discovery. In a rare motion for a writ of possession, Discovery said it already has paid more than $2 million for second-season work and owned intellectual property, but that footage was being held "hostage."

"Discovery should not have to pay a ransom for materials it already owns and that LMNO is unlawfully retaining," Discovery told the judge.

In response, LMNO argued Discovery doesn't have any rights to the footage because it has refused to sign a deal for the second season.

"If a prospective home-buyer came before the Court and demanded possession of a house after refusing to sign the purchase agreement, and having paid nothing but the deposit, the Court would dismiss the application out of hand," stated LMNO in its opposition brief, which added while Discovery had paid $2 million, it wasn't the full amount due. "In short, Discovery has stiffed [LMNO Entertainment Group] for 24% of the agreed price."

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Steve Kim denied the application for writ of possession with the conclusion that it was too premature to rule on the merits of the claims and defenses.

"In this case, Discovery’s application, if granted, would functionally be dispositive of claims and defenses of both LMNO and Discovery," states Kim in his order. "The Court cannot decide Discovery’s application here without necessarily (and perhaps prematurely) adjudicating claims and defenses that must be resolved ultimately by the assigned District Judge. Indeed, the two federal district court decisions cited by Discovery in its supplemental letter brief only reinforce this point, as both those cases were decided either by a federal district judge or by a magistrate judge through findings and recommendations."

Kim notes that Discovery may attempt to try to get the result it is seeking by asking for a determination from the district judge. Until then, TLC seems unlikely to be showing the second season of this show.