Worldview Co-Founder Demands Dismissal of 'Birdman' Exec Producer's Lawsuit

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Michael Keaton won the award for his soaring turn in Birdman.

Litigation can get nasty no doubt, but the rapid-fire filings over the embattled Worldview Entertainment are making rugby seem like a gentleman's sport. The latest is Worldview co-founder Maria Cestone's motion to dismiss the $70 million lawsuit filed last month by film financier and Birdman executive producer Sarah Johnson.

According to a memorandum in support of dismissal, "Sarah Johnson's complaint is the end result of delusion and amnesia superimposed on causes of action which vacillate between specious and wholly contrived."

That's just the opening line.

Johnson is a fairly prominent figure. Or at least her billionaire father, Charles Johnson — chairman of financial services giant Franklin Templeton and owner of the San Francisco Giants — is one. A few years ago, she and her brother marched into Hollywood.

At Worldview, Johnson appeared to be in good company.

The chief executive was Christopher Woodrow, former vice president at Citigroup Global Markets. The chief financial officer was Hoyt David Morgan, an investor in technology and media businesses. Along with Cestone, the group invested in a bunch of films, none of which were very successful until the award-winning Birdman. Worldview's upcoming slate includes Child 44, Triple Nine and an untitled Warren Beatty film.

But at a time when the Worldview bunch should be celebrating the Birdman success, there's an incredible amount of in-fighting at a company that reportedly closed its business the Friday before the Oscars. Morgan has sued, causing Birdman pay-outs to become frozen. Woodrow has been sued and is suing too. And in March, Johnson filed her own complaint in New York Supreme Court.

A memorandum to dismiss Johnson's lawsuit challenges the credibility of Johnson's claim that she was tricked into investing in the company, contending that Johnson's business acumen belies her assertions. Johnson serves as operations manager at Franklin Templeton, and oversaw a fund with $1.5 billion in assets. She also served on on boards of directors and audit committees. Among other achievements, she also earned her series 7 and 24 licenses.

"Against the weight of that experience, Plaintiff now wants the world and this Court to believe that the Defendants... fraudulently induced her into investing in excess of $25 million in various films over a four year period," states Cestone's memo.

Cestone, through her attorney Ryder Ulon, tries to shoot down Johnson's various causes of action as fake (aiding and abetting breach of contract), unsupported (fraudulent concealment), lacking in privity (misrepresentation), lacking in standing (gross negligence/mismanagement) or otherwise faulty for some other reason. The memo asserts, "Stripped of its hyperbole, Plaintiff's Complaint is nothing more than a tactical legal gambit by a litigant seeking to blame others for what she now deems to be bad investments."

Twitter: @eriqgardner