Rian Johnson Defeats Ex-Agent's Suit Over Commissions

Rian Johnson - Getty - H 2019
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for CinemaCon

It looks like the force is with Rian Johnson in a lawsuit from his ex-agent that sought a 10 percent share of his pay for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, as a California judge has sustained his demurrer to the complaint.

Agent Brian Dreyfuss in May 2016 sued Johnson, along with his producing partner Ram Bergman, claiming the director owed him commission from the Star Wars franchise — even though those deals were negotiated after Johnson and Dreyfuss parted ways.

The courtroom battle was paused a few months later while the parties waited for the California Labor Commissioner to weigh in on a petition filed by Johnson that alleged Dreyfuss "circumvented guild rules and regulations on licensing requirements, maximum commissions and post-termination commissions."

That decision came in February with California Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower finding Johnson doesn't have to pay Dreyfuss for his work on The Last Jedi because of a state code that only permits agents to recover fees under oral agreements if they have a direct role in procuring a client's work. Under the provision, agents can’t cash in on agreements that weren't in effect at the time of termination. For the years Johnson was represented by both Dreyfuss and CAA, he was paying double commission, but García-Brower found that Johnson can't get any of that back.

Dreyfuss and Featured Artists Agency in October filed an amended complaint alleging breach of implied contract, among other claims, and Johnson and Bergman filed a demurrer arguing that the court lacks jurisdiction, there's another action pending and the agent failed to state a claim.

In a tentative ruling issued ahead of a Wednesday morning hearing, L.A. Superior Court Judge Michael P. Linfield indicated he's inclined to sustain the demurrer without leave to amend.

Linfield found that Dreyfuss' claims are barred by the statute of limitations under the Talent Agencies Act, which specifies that any action must be brought within one year of the alleged violation and the Labor Commissioner has exclusive jurisdiction over controversies "colorably" arising under the TAA. Dreyfuss may have sued in 2016, but FAA didn't file a petition to the Labor Commissioner until November 2018 — more than two and a half years after the litigation began.

During the Wednesday hearing, Linfield did sustain the demurrer and will be issuing a revised decision. (FAA's related suit against CAA is still pending in his courtroom.)

Johnson and Bergman are represented by Aaron Moss and Dan Stone of Greenberg Glusker.