12:54pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Universal Stuck in Court With 'Fast and Furious' Producer
Neal Moritz will be able to openly litigate his claim that Universal Studios has breached an oral agreement for Hobbs & Shaw. On Monday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge rejected Universal's contention that the dispute belonged in arbitration.
Moritz takes credit for being one of the driving forces behind the blockbuster franchise based on The Fast and the Furious and alleges that he spent a year and a half working on the forthcoming spinoff starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham before he was ultimately booted from the film. The producer further alleges that he was orally promised a $2 million fee and first-dollar gross for Hobbs & Shaw — an arrangement based on Moritz’s agreements for earlier Fast & Furious movies.
This case has bounced between a state and federal court, with Universal Pictures president Jimmy Horowitz being personally named for fraud. Now, just weeks from Hobbs & Shaw's Aug. 2 premiere, the lawsuit figures to really rev up as Monday's decision also hits the gas pedal on discovery.
Moritz never signed a written agreement for Hobbs & Shaw, and thus, an arbitration provision in that deal never became operative.
Nevertheless, Universal pointed to arbitration provisions in Moritz's deals for prior Fast & Furious films and argued they were implicated.
"Here, the seven prior agreements are not closely connected in purpose, i.e., each addresses a different feature film in the Fast and Furious franchise," writes L.A. Superior Court Judge Craig Karlan in Monday's order. "They do not incorporate one another’s terms, i.e., except the FF8 – FF10 Agreement as explained. … They were not executed at the same time, and the breach of any one agreement does not necessarily lead to the breach of any of the other agreements. Moreover, the fact that the Complaint references the FF8 – FF10 Agreement does not render any potential arbitration provision contained therein applicable to this matter."
Karlan adds that because Hobbs & Shaw is neither a sequel nor reboot — it's a spinoff — it doesn't fit the definition of a "qualified subsequent picture" — under Moritz's most recent written agreements.
The two sides didn't really fight there, but Universal did contend that there was enough evidence that Moritz had agreed to arbitrate disputes arising out of Fast & Furious, or at very least, an arbitrator should decide the issue of arbitrability.
Universal loses the argument because that's not what the prior written agreements state.
"Had the parties wished to have any and all disputes 'arising out of or relating' to the entire Fast and Furious franchise be arbitrated, they could have easily drafted such an expansive arbitration provision; they chose not to," states the decision.
Judge Karlan then gives the green light for discovery, which will likely mean exploration of the $5 billion franchise, the parties' working relationship over the years, the amount of work that Moritz completed for Hobbs & Shaw, the negotiations for his work and a valuation of damages. Moritz not only demands lost compensation due under the alleged oral agreement, but he's also looking for punitive damages for promissory fraud as well as compensation for "substantial reputational damage" for not being credited as the lead producer for Hobbs & Shaw.