'Hurt Locker' Case Dismissed: Read Judge's Decision

Jonathan Olley – © 2008 Summit Entertainment

A federal judge in California has dismissed a lawsuit brought by an Iraqi war veteran who claimed to be the inspiration behind the Academy Award winning film, The Hurt Locker.

Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver sued the makers of the film in March, 2010, alleging his rights of publicity were infringed, that he was defamed, and that he was cheated him out of participating in the financial success of the film.

Today, the defendants including Summit EntertainmentVoltage Pictures, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal succeeding on an anti-SLAPP motion that Sarver's lawsuit constituted an impingement of free speech.

Read THR's coverage of the decision plus reactions from Boal and Bigelow.

Judge Jacqueline Nguyen ruled that The Hurt Locker was a movie connected to an issue of public interest and that Sarver hadn't demonstrated a likelihood of prevailing. In particular, the judge found that even if the main character of Will James was based on the the plaintiff, "no reasonable trier of fact could conclude that the work was not transformative. Defendants unquestionable contributed significant distinctive and expressive content to the character of Will James."

Sarver's claims about being defamed were also summarily dismissed. In examining the film, the judge found little evidence to suggest that the movie would injure Sarver in his occupation as a solider, also adding that if other soldiers asked him whether events in the film really happened, as Sarver had declared in the case, it would be "evidence that the fictional presumption of the film undercut" his claim of being injured through defamatory speech.

The rest of Sarver's lawsuit, which included supporting claims such as an allegation that Boal had breached an agreement with the U.S. military in order to be embedded with an Army unit for the purposes of research, were dismissed as unsubstantiated.

The attorney for the defendants declared this decision to be a great result for the entertainment industry.

"The Court's opinion and order reinforces First Amendment protections for transformative works such as the portrayal of Sergeant Will James in The Hurt Locker," says Tim Gorry at Eisner, Kahan & Gorry. "This should reduce the chilling effect that lawsuits such as this one have on creative expression for all the arts."

Here's the full decision: