Variety Quotes Manatt Partner on Golden Globes Dispute
"HFPA Faces High Hurdles in Case Against Dick Clark Prods"Variety
January 14, 2011 - Though the awards were handed out on Sunday, all hasn’t been settled when it comes to the Golden Globe Awards. Manatt’s Benjamin G. Shatz, co-chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group, was interviewed by Variety regarding the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s (HFPA’s) ongoing case against Dick Clark Productions (DCP).
Variety reports that the suit comes down to what was left out of a long-term contract to produce the awards, namely, a clause that would have explicitly given the HFPA veto power as the Clark company negotiated new rights deals with NBC.
California courts and the federal judges charged with interpreting California state law, the article says, have been more flexible than elsewhere in allowing outside evidence in gleaning the meaning of a written contract, though even California has a high hurdle for allowing such evidence.
At the center of the case is a 1993 amendment to the HFPA’s original agreement in which DCP was given the option to produce the show through 2005, as well as "any extensions, renewals, substitutions or modifications of the NBC Agreement, and to exploit such productions in all media through the world in perpetuity."
What they didn't do is spell out the words "with the HFPA's consent."
The case, Variety says, is likely to involve the "parol evidence rule," or the doctrine that a written contract is what it says it is, with a series of legal hurdles to allow consideration of other factors to glean its intent.
Shatz has written on the parol evidence rule, and so was contacted by Variety's legal reporter as an expert in this area.
The more obvious cases in which outside evidence is allowed are those that involve a term that can mean two different things, as was the case with a protracted suit in which one of Gene Roddenberry's ex-wives had a divorce settlement that gave her half the income from profit participation in "Star Trek." That divorce was in 1969, so the question was whether "Star Trek" meant just the original series or also the bonanza of movies and merchandising that followed.
Shatz told Variety that the Golden Globe Awards case is different, because "it is not just picking on a word or phrase. What seems to be going on here is an entire clause. That can almost make it a bit harder. Again, it is a slightly different twist on things. It is almost like saying, 'We all meant we were supposed to do this other obligation, we all knew it at the time, so it is OK.' That is a pretty hard sell, but it may be that they have the facts to prove this."
California, Shatz said, "is a little bit more generous in allowing people to make these arguments." But a host of factors have to be considered by the courts, among them whether alleged interpretation of the contract directly contradicts the written words. If so, such "extrinsic" evidence fails, he noted.
U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank has scheduled a hearing on March 7.
Read the article here.
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