10:34am PT by Ashley Cullins
Judge Delays Decision on 'Survivor' Consultant's Request for New Damages Trial
In a Tuesday morning hearing with no shortage of snark, attorneys for Survivor consultant Layne Britton and Mark Burnett's ex-business partner Conrad Riggs duked it out over whether a jury made a mistake in how it awarded damages following a breach of contract trial in February, but they'll have to wait a little longer to find out if they'll be facing off in trial again.
"You guys really litigated the heck out of this case," Judge Frederick C. Shaller said to the attorneys. "The presentation was excellent in all respects. It was a great trial to watch and I guess I wouldn’t mind having you do it again, but that’s just for my entertainment."
Britton sued Riggs in 2012, claiming a 2000 consulting agreement entitled him to a share of Riggs’ revenue from Survivor and other Burnett projects, and he was shorted at least $14 million for his work in connection to the shows. Britton says Riggs didn’t start paying him until 2002 and stopped in 2006, but he didn't sue until several years later because he trusted Riggs to pay up.
In February a jury found Riggs' company Cloudbreak Entertainment was liable for breach of contract, but it also found the statute of limitations applies to Britton's claims and awarded about $490,000 in damages. The jury found Riggs himself not liable for any damages.
The jury got the verdict "half-right," according to Britton's motion for a new trial on damages filed earlier this month. In that motion, Britton's attorney Shahin Rezvani called the amounts the jurors arrived at on the verdict form "simply inexplicable."
On the verdict form, the jurors wrote that Britton was damaged $0 prior to the statute of limitations cut-off dates.
During the hearing Shaller said it could boil down to the jurors misunderstanding the verdict form instructions and writing what they were awarding as opposed to what they would have awarded had they not found the complaint to be time-barred.
In the motion, Rezvani argued that mistake, if that's what it was, warrants a new trial to establish that amount. That figure would come into play during an appeal or if the court disagrees with the jury's finding that the statute of limitations applies.
Britton's attorney Eric George argued in the hearing that the jury presumably found Britton failed to establish he was owed more than the $1.77 million he was already paid for that time period.
"It’s the court’s discretion to weigh the evidence," said Britton's attorney Jeff McFarland in the hearing. "It’s not counsel's responsibility to guess what the jury did."
Britton's attorneys also claim the amount awarded, $489,850, does not correspond to any figure given by either party's expert during trial.
Riggs' attorney Corbin K. Barthold, in his opposition, used an equation to explain. The expert hired by Riggs, Elaine Douglas, estimated that if the statute of limitations was found to apply he would owe Britton $311,000. The remainder, Barthold argued, is 35 percent of the legal fees Riggs paid through 2015 in his lawsuit against Burnett. (Barthold's math: $311,000 + ($511,000 x 35 percent) = $489,850)
"Britton went for broke — he wanted more than $15 million for a spell of parttime work! — and he failed wretchedly," Barthold wrote in the motion. "Now he wants a judge to save him not only from his lies but from his startling overreach and his sorry trial strategy. Don't fall for it."
Shaller says he needs more time to study the request for a new trial and intends to issue a written ruling later this week.