11:03am PT by Eriq Gardner
Viacom Says It Can't Be Held Responsible for TV Star's Sexual Assault
The alleged sexual misconduct that briefly shut down production of ABC's Bachelor in Paradise has provoked no public litigation thus far. And so, observers will be left guessing how Warner Bros. TV might have attempted to fend off potential claims from BIP contestants, Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson, over what happened on the first day of shooting. Might the studio have raised First Amendment arguments, turned to a cast contract disclaiming responsibility for "unwelcome/unlawful contact or other interaction among participants," or argued that it had not proximately caused any assault? Perhaps. Maybe a dispute involving Jayceon Taylor, the hip-hop star known as "The Game," can help answer legal questions.
Priscilla Rainey, who was cast to be a love interest on the VH1 reality show She's Got Game, alleges she was sexually assaulted by Taylor during an "afterhours date." She sued for battery and testified that Taylor was highly intoxicated when the two went to a Chicago-area nightclub and he forcefully reached his hands inside her dress to rub her. After a trial last November, she scored a $7.1 million verdict.
Now, in a twist, Taylor is suing Viacom, alleging the media company owed him a duty of reasonable care to ensure that the contestants were fit and suitable for participation. In other words, the rapper blames Viacom for what happened.
Last week, Viacom brought a motion to strike Taylor's complaint and raises some of the very defenses highlighted above.
"It is absurd for Taylor to claim that Viacom’s alleged approval of Rainey being cast on the Program is the proximate cause of the jury’s verdict against him for allegedly sexually assaulting her," states Viacom's SLAPP motion. "The superseding causes of his purported damages include, most obviously, his alleged sexual battery of Rainey, as well as her filing of a civil lawsuit against him, his failure to appear for trial, and the jury’s decision to credit her testimony and award her $7.1 million. Each is an independent event that breaks any purported chain of causation."
Viacom tells a California judge that Taylor's claims arise from conduct in furtherance of its First Amendment rights. Leaning on a body of prior court decisions, the media company characterizes the process of casting as an "integral part of the creation of a television program" and says that Taylor, his dating life, and She's Got Game qualify as issues of public interest under the California statute meant to deter frivolous court actions impinging upon constitutionally protected activity.
If a judge agrees, the next question will be whether Taylor can show a probability of prevailing upon claims. If not, the lawsuit fails.
Viacom expresses doubts as to Taylor's ability to demonstrate how Rainey's past made the alleged sexual assault foreseeable. Furthermore, Rainey's lawsuit and Taylor's defense of which are deemed to be "subsequent intervening causes of Taylor's alleged harm." Viacom, represented by Alonzo Wickers and Jonathan Segal at Davis Wright Tremaine, go so far as to recount some of the odd things that happened in the civil case between Rainey and Taylor. For example, at one point, the judge in the case is said to have reprimanded Taylor's lawyer by saying, "And you — 90 percent of the time, you end up getting creamed by her, when you talk about the panties and you talk about muffin top. I mean, it's just irrelevant, and you just get destroyed when you do that. So, for the sake of the jury and the sake of yourself, just focus on the important stuff and don't chase Ms. Rainey down any rabbit holes."
Even if the judge thinks there's some solid connection between Viacom's casting of Rainey and the $7.1 million judgment, Viacom also brings up the contract that Taylor, through his loan-out corporation, signed in advance of starring on the VH1 show.
"Taylor explicitly acknowledged that his participation in the Program may cause emotional strains upon him, and agreed 'to accept any and all risks of participating in the Project,' states Viacom's motion. "He separately released Viacom from 'any and all manner of liabilities, claims and demands of any kind ... which arise out of or relate to the use of the Footage in connection with the production ... of the 22 Series[.]' Having done so, he cannot now sue Viacom for any such alleged harms related to the Program."
Here's Viacom's full SLAPP motion: