More than six months after the first lawsuit was filed over anti-poaching and wage-fixing allegations, the ‘toon studios have seen the now-consolidated class-action case go the way of hand drawing as genre standard, at least for now.
“As Plaintiffs have failed to allege an essential element of fraudulent concealment, and the Court has also concluded that Plaintiffs’ claims, as currently alleged, are time barred, the Court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ CAC,” said a federal judge on Good Friday in the action from a trio of digital artists against the major animation studios (read it here).
However, Disney, Sony, DreamWorks Animation and other studios named in the case aren’t completely in the clear. Judge Lucy H. Koh has given David Wentworth, Robert Nitsch Jr. and Georgia Cano an opportunity to file a Second Amended Complaint in the next 30 days.
“This dismissal is without prejudice, as the Court concludes that amendment would not necessarily be futile, as Plaintiffs may be able to allege sufficient facts to support their continuing violations claim and their equitable tolling claim,” the district judge wrote in the 32-page order.
This potential end to this potentially sprawling class action comes just over a month after the same judge finally signed off on a settlement worth more than $410 million against a group of big technology firms over very similar allegations.
Koh had previously rejected an offer of $324.5 million from Apple, Google, Intel and Adobe among others over collusion to keep employees wages fixed and ensure no one hired away talent from anyone else. Involving more than 64,000 tech workers, the litigation came after a DOJ investigation into the matter. Documents unsealed in the High-Tech case surfaced what seemed like a pattern of similar behavior by the now Disney-owned Pixar and other animation giants and spawned the case that Koh just dismissed.
Former DWA visual effects artist Nitsch was the first to file on September 8 last year. The other two soon followed and once Koh took over the case on September 24 , she allowed them to consolidate their action. The studios’ main argument was that the statute of limitations has expired on the trio’s claims, and they filed on January 9 to have the case dismissed “in its entirety with prejudice.” In a February 11 response, plaintiffs said their “federal and state causes of action (are) timely.” Obviously the judge disagreed.
“The four-year statute of limitations ran on Plaintiffs’ claims as early as 2008, and at best in 2011,” said Judge Koh in her order of April 3. She ruled that the clock started ticking as early as 2004, as that was when Cano worked at Disney and Nitsch at Sony.
“The Court therefore concludes that Plaintiffs’ claims are time barred absent sufficient allegations that Defendants engaged in “continuing violations” after September 8, 2010, i.e., four years prior to the first-filed complaint in this consolidated action, or that Defendants’ fraudulent concealment should toll the statute of limitations,” she added.
The studios are represented by a collection of firms with attorneys from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Covington and Burling, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, Williams & Connolly plus McManis Faulkner. Daniel A. Small of DC’s Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC; Steve Berman of Seattle’s Hagens Berman Sobel Shapiro LLP; and Marc Seltzer of LA’s Susman Godfrey LLP are lead lawyers for Wentworth, Nitsch and Cano.