In downtown L.A. this morning, a federal judge disagreed with the studio — plus director F. Gary Gray, Legendary Pictures Funding, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and the other defendants — that Heller’s defamation, misappropriation of likeness and copyright infringement suit shouldn’t go forward. With a tentative ruling, Judge Michael Fitzgerald gave Heller’s lawyers until April 25 to file a second and likely final amended complaint in the matter. Heller’s lead attorney Michael Richard Shapiro thanked the court for its “diligence” in the increasingly complicated case.
“There is this movie, this vessel, that contains these things,” Fitzgerald said of Heller’s wide-ranging defamation claims. He added that people involved with the flick that opened August 14 “were aware that these statements were false.” Heller’s lawyers now have just under a month to identify specifically who in the production of the film were responsible for the statements and depictions that Heller is at issue with. “We don’t know,” Shapiro told the judge and assembled lawyers. “Every name that was listed” in the initial lawsuit “was listed in the movie.”
Among the claims in his original complaint of October 30, Heller said he did not like the way he was depicted as a “sleazy manager” in the biopic of the legendary West Coast hip-hop group. Too bad — or rather, not true — said the defendants in a duo of filings on February 10 to either dismiss the suit, which was moved to federal court in December, or have it shut down by anti-SLAPP measures.
“The Film is a docudrama chronicling a decade-long story from 1986 to 1996 of the pioneering rap record company, Ruthless Records, the rise and demise of Ruthless Records’ extremely successful musical group, N.W.A, and the careers and personal relationships of members of N.W.A,” said the anti-SLAPP motion. “Plaintiff’s theory that he has been defamed, or his image has been misappropriated, by the depiction of the ‘Jerry Heller’ character in the Film,” it adds of the Paul Giamatti-portrayed role. “Because these claims fall directly within the scope of protection afforded by the anti-SLAPP statute, the burden is shifted to Plaintiff Gerald E. Heller (‘Plaintiff’ or ‘Heller’) to demonstrate a ‘probability’ of prevailing on his claims. Plaintiff cannot meet this burden.”
The defendants’ Greenberg Traurig lawyers also called Heller’s first amended complaint filed in January “a hodgepodge of conclusory allegations and subjective interpretations of the Film.” They noted, and suggested Heller should have noticed that, Straight Outta Compton came with a disclaimer that it is a dramatization.
That disclaimer wasn’t enough for the judge today.
Brent Finch of Westlake Village’s Finch Law is now also representing Heller, along with Shapiro. Both were in court on Monday.