8:58am PT by Eriq Gardner
Woody Allen's $68M Lawsuit Against Amazon Is Narrowed by Judge
Woody Allen's $68 million lawsuit against Amazon for terminating his lucrative film deal has taken a hit. On Wednesday, a judge dismissed several of the filmmaker's claims.
Allen filed suit with the contention that there is "no legitimate ground" to cancel a deal based on an old allegation he sexually abused his daughter, while Amazon responds that its decision was "justified," pointing to Allen's comments about the rise of the #MeToo movement, saying these statements made it impossible to promote his films.
U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote looks at Allen's allegations regarding a multipicture acquisition agreement, which provided the filmmaker with minimum guaranteed payments.
"The complaint fails to allege an actionable breach of the MAA," writes the judge. "The plaintiffs identify no breach of a contract that does not relate to an individual film. The MAA provides that any claim for damages with respect to the films licensed through it may only be brought under each film’s SPA [single picture agreement]. The plaintiffs have brought such claims in their first four causes of action and Amazon Content does not seek dismissal of those claims. The MAA provides certain benefits to Amazon, such as an exclusive 'first look' at Allen’s subsequent literary and visual materials and the right to publicize the parties’ agreements, but the plaintiffs do not allege that they suffered damages from the termination of these provisions."
As a result, Allen will continue to seek to hold Amazon liable for not living up to the contractual relationship with regard to four specific films, including A Rainy Day in New York, but the judge isn't swayed by Allen's allegation that the termination of the larger deal interfered with his ability to meet obligations with outside investors and foreign distributors.
The judge then analyzes Allen's separate claim that Amazon breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. This was premised on Amazon's alleged implied promise that it wouldn't repudiate the contract plus how Amazon would continue to license and finance his works as part of a continuous, long-term relationship.
"None of these promises are, in fact, distinct from the contractual obligations laid out in the parties’ contracts," responds the judge. "The plaintiffs essentially claim that Amazon is bound by an implied promise to abide by the terms of the MAA.... As such, the claim for breach of the implied covenant under the MAA is redundant of the plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim."
Allen has also lost a claim of unjust enrichment that was premised on the supposed publicity benefits for Amazon in working with him. In his complaint, Allen pointed out that his film deal came just as Amazon was getting into the production business and how the company used him to launch itself into the content industry.
Cote finds that this claim is duplicative as well.
"The MAA gave exclusive rights to publicize the parties’ agreement to Amazon Content," writes the judge. "To the extent any related Amazon entity benefitted by Amazon Content exercising that right to publicity, the plaintiffs’ recourse is through a suit against Amazon Content for breach of the MAA. As discussed above, that claim has been dismissed."
Earlier this week, the parties outlined a new schedule for the case. According to a letter to the judge, discovery will be completed by Nov. 1. Over the following two months, the two sides will then identify their experts. A joint pretrial motion is to come March 6, 2020. The two sides will likely indicate their readiness for a trial.
As for discovery, the process has already proved contentious, with Amazon aiming to find all those in Hollywood who will no longer work with Allen. Also, the two sides are disputing the relevance of Amazon's documents predating its relationship with Allen.