With mere weeks until the big guy is back in theaters May 16, the Godzilla battle between Legendary Pictures and producers Roy Lee, Dan Lin and Doug Davison over the upcoming Warner Bros-released reboot looks more likely than ever to be heading to trial. A California Appeals Court judge today rejected Legendary’s attempt to have the matter dealt with in private arbitration (read it here). Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst said that “substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding that the parties never had a written agreement to arbitrate their dispute.” On January 9 last year, Legendary filed a complaint to remove Lin, Lee and Davison from the blockbuster project with a puny $25,000 payout. According to Legendary, the tiny sum was all the three were entitled to under the March 2011 Producer Loan Agreement between them and the company. Today’s ruling was in response to a May 10, 2013 ruling by Judge Abraham Khan of the LA Superior Court denying Legendary’s desire for arbitration in the potentially multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
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Not that Legendary is breaking a sweat publicly after fighting so hard to keep things behind closed doors. “The Court of Appeals decision today decided nothing more than where Legendary’s dispute with Roy Lee and Dan Lin will be litigated,” the company’s lawyer Dale Kinsella said today after the ruling. “Irrespective of the location of the forum, Legendary is confident it will prevail on the merits of the case, for which this recent ruling has no bearing whatsoever. Kinsella is with Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP. (UPDATE, 2:59 PM - “We are pleased that the Court of Appeal has agreed with our legal and factual position,” said the three producers’ lawyer Stanton L. Stein in a statement. “We look forward to presenting our case in a court of law before a jury. We are confident the jury will find in our favor.”)
“We agree that it appears that the parties intended to memorialize in writing the terms of their oral agreement,” Ashmann-Gerst wrote today of the unsigned agreement that is at the heart of most of the case’s most recent activity. “The draft long-form agreement may have been an attempt to do so; but, respondents objected to many of the terms and expressly reserved the right to object to other terms. And, in any event, the draft long-form agreement indicated that it was not final until executed by the parties — it never was.”
In Legendary’s initial suit, filed to avert a temporary restraining order it says the producer trio threatened, the studio claimed Warner Bros lot-based Lin and Lee, as well as Davison, were brought on board in March 2010 soon after the company acquired rights to the Godzilla character from Japanese corporation Toho. Legendary’s attorneys claim the established producers had nothing to do with that deal and hence held no ownership or underlying rights to the monster or movies based on him. The producers counterclaimed January 17 and the case has grinded its way through the courts and failed mediation ever since.
Lawyers Stein, Bennet Bigman, and Jordan. Paul of LA”s Liner Grode Stein Yankelevitz Sunshine Regenstreif & Taylor are repping Lin, Lee and Davison in the case.