Personal Managers Group Sues to Stop Enforcement of the Talent Agencies Act

2012-33 BIZ Lawsuit Illustration P IPAD

A fight over Christopher Nolan’s "Dark Knight Rises" commissions is the latest Hollywood lawsuit to reveal that looming bottom-line pressures trump even bad press.

There are few things more hated by Hollywood talent managers these days than the Talent Agencies Act, the California law that says only licensed talent agents can procure employment for clients.

Since the TAA was determined by courts to apply to managers, it has been used as an offensive sword by Hollywood artists from Arsenio Hall to Ke$ha who wish to escape paying commissions to their managers. The typical scenario: An actor fires his manager. The manager sues for money owed. The actor then files a claim at the California Labor Commissioner that seeks to invalidate a contract on the basis that the manager was wrongfully procuring work for the client without a license.

Faced with this scourge, Hollywood managers have attempted to limit the impact of the TAA in various ways over the years.

The latest comes in a lawsuit filed on Friday by the National Conference of Personal Managers against California governor Jerry Brown, California attorney general Kamala Harris, and California Labor Commissioner Julie Su.

The NCOPM is now making an argument that the TAA is wholly unconstitutional, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief on the basis that the TAA violates due process, equal protection, involuntary servitude, and interferes with interstate commerce and free speech.

The new lawsuit attempts to take the long view on the purpose and application of the TAA.

Whereas the primary considerations in Marathon Entertainment v. Blasi, the big dispute between actress Rosa Blasi and her ex-manager Rick Siegel over owed commissions, dealt with whether managers were covered under an act to regulate agents and then what to do about isolated acts of job procurement, this new case examines nearly a century of rule-making when it comes to laws governing agents.

The NCOPM presents the story of a century of confusion in California, from the 1913 passage of the "Private Employment Agencies Law," which was purportedly enacted in part to deal with "agents" who would sent clients out to houses of prostitution, to the 1937 passage of the "Artist Manager Law," which established criminal penalties for agents who employed their clients in exploitative activities, to the eventual TAA.

The lawsuit points out that that the TAA bill was amended several times before it was adopted by the California legislature in 1978. One of the amendments was to have governed personal managers. That provision was removed, which the plaintiffs say only confirms their belief that the legislature chose not to regulate personal managers. Plus, there is the title.

"The Legislature did not entitle it the Talent Representatives Act, but specifically entitled it the Talent Agencies Act," says the lawsuit. "That made it clear the occupation of talent agent is what is being regulated and not personal managers, publicists or attorneys, others who procure employment opportunities for artists."

So where does the constitutional grievance come in?

The plaintiffs look at the "vagueness of the TAA" and see a statute that doesn't instruct the Labor Commissioner with much specificity on allowances and limits in the enforcement. As a result, the group of managers say the TAA hasn't provided them with "adequate notice as to what specific behavior is to be restrained," thus violating due process.

In addition, the plaintiffs make the case the TAA is a form of slavery since "it affects Plaintiff being paid for its labor without being convicted of a crime," that the TAA interferes with interstate commerce since it "deprives out-of-state personal managers access to the California talent market on equal terms," and that it represents a violation of free expression and association since it "precludes Plaintiff from communicating and performing tasks directly related to its occupation of furthering its clients' careers."

In short, for those whose job duties include giving professional advice and making small chores like paying travel expenses, they hate the TAA! If the American dream includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, they see the TAA as totally anti-American.

Here's the full complaint.

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