Judge Weighs Producer's Lawsuit Over 'Hijacked' DMV Reality Show

Ashton Kutcher JOBS Arrivals - P 2013
Getty Images

Ashton Kutcher JOBS Arrivals - P 2013

One year ago, Ashton Kutcher's Katalyst Media settled a lawsuit against California's Department of Motor Vehicles for backing out of a deal on a reality television show. The government agency paid $450,000 to make the lawsuit disappear.

But that didn't end the legal fussing over the unproduced DMV reality show. A producer named Hedda Muskat soon sued Kutcher's production company and Creative Artists Agency, and on Wednesday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge indicated that he was inclined to allow claims to survive. The judge read a tentative ruling from the bench, before taking the matter under submission.

STORY: The Hollywood Reporter's Top 25 Reality Players of 2014

About Katalyst's settlement with the DMV: After reading about it in The Hollywood Reporter, Muskat became upset.

The DMV show was allegedly Muskat's idea. The producer says she was pushed aside during development and that Katalyst was responsible for destroying the project. Allegedly, after Muskat did much of the groundwork establishing a relationship with the DMV, the agency backed out of the show after Katalyst issued an "offensive casting call" that framed the project as "adversarial to the DMV." Not only does Muskat allege not to have gotten anything the settlement, but she blames Katalyst and agents at Creative Artists Agency for the "destruction" of her career.

"Prior to signing with CAA and partnering with Katalyst, Plaintiff produced a long string of successful reality television programs, such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Judge Alex and America's Got Talent," states Muskat's lawsuit filed last September. "However, because the shows she brought to CAA and Katalyst were consistently torpedoed by Defendants' mismanagement, Plaintiff's name is now only associated with aborted projects and she is no longer able to attain work in the reality television industry that she successfully participated in for well over two decades."

Specifically, Muskat sued Katalyst for breach of oral contract and promissory fraud and CAA for breach of fiduciary duty and negligence. There were other claims in her $2 million lawsuit.

In response, Katalyst's attorney Harrison Dossick called into question the plaintiff's "vague" oral contract claim in a demurrer motion. Muskat "neglects to mention what the alleged promise exactly entailed ... and what exactly Defendants 'took away' from her," as well as "how the alleged breach causes her any harm."

The complaint, responded Muskat attorney Daniel Lifschitz, "clearly states that Katalyst (via Katalyst co-owner Jason] Goldberg) promised Plaintiff she would, at all times, exercise control over the project, the details of which were known by Goldberg/Katalyst from the many communications with Plaintiff on the subject. Katalyst took away this control by informing she was to be excluded from executive decisions regarding the show. By taking away her control, Defendants rendered Plaintiff powerless to prevent the decisions that caused the DMV to cancel the Project from being made. This caused significant damage to Plaintiff."

PHOTOS: MIPTV: The Hottest New Reality Shows

Katalyst and Muskat also fought over whether the fraud claim was sufficiently supported.

As for CAA, the talent agency's lawyer Jeffrey Valle objected to the potential repercussions associated with allegations, like failing to set up pitch meetings, failing to disclose Discovery Network's interest in the project, failing to assist Muskat when she was complaining about being pushed out and failing to disclose that TruTV (which initially bought the project) released funds to Katalyst. "While plaintiff paints a picture of neglect," its own demurrer motion stated, "nowhere in the [complaint] does Plaintiff allege any affirmative conduct by CAA that was contrary to Plaintiff's interest."

Muskat's lawyers responded to this by arguing that CAA had been "favoring its institutional client, Katalyst, over a client it perceived to be less valuable," which in plaintiff's view, "amounted to more than a mere failure to act, but a conscious decision to substantially assist Katalyst in perpetrating the wrongful conduct."

At a hearing on Wednesday, LA Superior Court judge Joseph Kalin described his tentative overruling of the demurrers and heard oral arguments over such issues as whether Muskat's claims were precluded by statute of limitations. The judge should be issuing a written decision after further considering the dispute and the applicable laws.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner