'Purge' Producers Escape Lawsuit Claiming Rip-Off

It's the end of a four-year-old lawsuit that haunted Universal and the film's director. In court papers stipulating dismissal, the parties tout "independent creation."
Courtesy of Photofest

Universal, Platinum Dunes Productions and James DeMonaco have finally put an end to a four-year-old lawsuit that alleged the horror smash The Purge was ripped off from another writer. On Friday, the parties informed a California court that the case was being dropped after a settlement.

Douglas Jordan-Benel brought the lawsuit alleging the film — about an annual 12-hour period where all crime is legal — derived from his screenplay called Settler's Day. As the plaintiff navigated one hurdle after another in litigating his copyright and breach of contract claims, The Purge spawned sequels and a TV series. Jordan-Benel stated in court papers that the plot of both works was "virtually identical" and in his complaint, the plaintiff focused on the submission of his script to the UTA talent agency, which also represents DeMonaco.

At an early stage, the defendants aimed to kill the suit with an anti-SLAPP motion arguing that Jordan-Benel was interfering with First Amendment rights and was unlikely to succeed on the merits.

In 2015, a federal judge largely rejected the dismissal bid, ruling that Jordan-Benel had plausibly alleged that his submission of the script was conditioned on payment should it be used later. The judge said that theories of access would be explored in discovery.

Universal and other defendants then took the case up to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but that didn't provide salvation. The federal appeals court didn't think the lawsuit implicated First Amendment activity sufficient for a SLAPP motion. According to the decision, Jordan-Benel wasn't challenging filmmaking; he just wanted to be paid.

Back at the lower court, the parties then exchanged documents in an effort to establish exactly how DeMonaco had come up with the idea. When certain documents suggested his effort may have predated Jordan-Benel's, a huge fight broke out over whether there was any evidence tampering. With forensic investigators opining, Jordan-Benel gained great access to early versions of the Purge screenplay and emails.

Now, before the case gets adjudicated on summary judgment or at trial, the parties have come to an agreement. A notice of the dismissal, which spells out the stipulation, is unusually specific and favorable to DeMonaco, perhaps a reflection on how this case has trailed him in the past few years.

According to the court document, "In light of information produced in discovery demonstrating Defendant James DeMonaco's independent creation of The Purge, Plaintiff has agreed to dismiss his lawsuit with prejudice, in exchange for a waiver by Defendants of any claim for an award of fees and costs."

No other terms of the settlement are disclosed besides that each party is bearing its own costs.