Hollywood Docket: 'The Purge' Creator Must Turn Over Electronic Evidence in Idea Theft Suit

'The Purge'

In June, The Purge opened to $34.1 million in the U.S., a new record opening for an R-rated horror movie. The film, about a society where all crime is legal one night a year, went on to earn $89.3 million worldwide, and a sequel is already in the works. The film's new record, however, would not hold as another horror pic came along and wiped it out less than a month later.

The Purge writer-director James DeMonaco has been ordered to turn over emails following allegations of evidence tampering in an idea theft lawsuit.

Douglas Jordan-Benel sued in 2015, claiming the 2013 horror flick derives from his screenplay called Settler's Day. After Universal, Platinum Dunes Productions and DeMonaco lost a bid to end the suit with an anti-SLAPP motion, which was followed by an unsuccessful appeal, the defense turned its focus to proving The Purge was independently created. 

During discovery, Jordan-Benel's representatives found discrepancies in documents produced by DeMonaco that they suspected meant he changed timestamps on his emails to establish early creation of the horror film. So the screenwriter asked the court to order the defendants to produce the original electronic version of those emails.

After a two-day evidentiary hearing, U.S. District Judge Michael Wilner granted the request. 

"Additional information (metadata derived from the e-mails and other files in native format) has potential relevance to establishing the legitimacy and provenance of those records," writes Wilner. "That metadata has a considerable likelihood of resolving the issues of alleged fakery."

In other entertainment legal news:

— CBS has beat a defamation lawsuit from a West Virginia pharmacy owner who claimed the news network unfairly painted him as the face of the state's painkiller epidemic. Samuel Ballengee in January 2017 sued the network for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, tortious interference and intentional infliction of emotional distress over a series of 2016 stories. CBS in June moved for summary judgment on all counts. 

U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin granted the motion, finding the statements concerning Ballengee were substantially true and, therefore, couldn't be defamatory. "Tug Valley filled eye-popping quantities of pain prescriptions written by reckless doctors," writes Goodwin. "I conclude that no reasonable juror could find that 'the substance, the gist, the sting, of the' implication that Mr. Ballengee contributed to the opioid epidemic for profit is not justified by the undisputed facts." (Read his full opinion here.)

— A lengthy legal duel over the rights to Zorro has ended in a draw. Playwright Robert Cabell in 2013 sued Zorro Productions Inc. and its owner, John Gertz, claiming the masked avenger should be in the public domain. Cabell also claimed that ZPI used material from his play Z – The Musical of Zorro in its later musical and in a novel about young Zorro written by Isabel Allende. A trial was set to begin in October, but the parties notified the court that they have reached a settlement.

— A few days before Global Road declared bankruptcy, it was hit with a lawsuit over City of Lies, an unreleased film about the investigation following the 1997 murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G., aka Christopher Wallace. Bank Luemi is suing Global Road, along with parents Open Road Films and Tang Media Partners, for breach of contract and trade libel, among other claims. The same day, the company sued Miramax on similar grounds. The financier says it agreed to loan up to about $24 million for the film, under the condition that Open Road and Miramax would pay their minimum guarantees, of $5.4 million and $4.25 million, respectively, directly to Bank Luemi.

City of Lies was supposed to open in no fewer than 1,800 theaters with an advertising budget of at least $10 million. The film was slated for a Sept. 7 release, but was pulled from the distribution schedule in August. Bank Luemi claims neither company has paid the balance of its guarantee that was due upon delivery of the film and that defendants didn't intend to accept delivery of the picture because "significant problems" have devalued it, including "highly publicized alleged off-screen conduct of [its star] Johnny Depp," and therefore believe they're not obligated to pay. Bank Luemi claims Depp is just a scapegoat and the movie was pulled because of Global Road's financial situation and unwillingness to spend $10 million on marketing and distribution.

— Ja Rule wants out of a lawsuit sparked by the disastrous 2017 Fyre Festival. The Bahamian nightmare resulted in multiple lawsuits aimed not only at Fyre Media, but also several individuals including the rapper, who had financially backed the event. His attorney Ryan Smith argues the complaint uses "boilerplate" pleadings that are devoid of factual support and the artist was only dragged into the fray because he is "financially solvent." Smith argues that Ja Rule had no fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs and two social media posts promoting the event amount to "non-actionable puffery." (Read the full filing here.)