Nearly five years after former The Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont and CAA went after AMC for profits from the zombie apocalypse series, it seems almost certain today that the more than $300 million matter is going to trial – in late 2019, at the earliest.
After a wait of over a year, at least one other lawsuit and AMC’s new lawyers saying they actually want to go before a jury and trying to kill off a summary judgement order, New York Supreme Court Justice Eileen Bransten finally revealed her position on motions made by both sides last year.
“In light of the factual issues the Plaintiff’s motion seeking partial summary judgment regarding declaratory relief must be denied,” wrote the soon to be retiring judge in a December 7 order made public today following the arguments that attorneys for the 2011 pink-slipped TWD EP and the uber-agency and the cabler made in front of her in September of last year.
“Defendants’ motion must be granted in part as to the claims for breach of the pay or pay provision, contractual screen credits, which was withdrawn by the Plaintiff, and the causes of action for an accounting, which was also withdrawn by the Plaintiff, and declaratory judgment cannot be sustained as there are alternative remedies available to the Plaintiff,” Justice Bransten added. “It must be denied in all other respects given that factual issues exist which prohibit this Court from making a determination as a matter of law” (read it here).
All of which means ultimately, besides some thorns dinging CAA and Darabont’s side and AMC not being left having to prepare to write a big check, the case that the once Charlie Collier run AMC wanted dead isn’t. In fact, as it has for years, the matter is likely going to stumble forward to be heard and decided by 12 New Yorkers with possible painful consequences like the walkers themselves on the Robert Kirkman-created series.
In her own way, such as denying The Shawshank Redemption director the ability for negotiations on the third season and beyond of the now nine-season TWD, Bransten made it very clear that she simply thought the drawn out matter was not for her to have the final say on.
“The court concludes that the agreement is susceptible to the interpretation urged by both parties in regard to whether the Affiliate Transaction Provision applies to the imputed license fee and is therefore ambiguous,” Bransten noted in her 35-page order. “Here, the parties offer extrinsic evidence to support their respective positions as to their intent, including, among other things, evidence of what occurred during negotiations,” the Justice states of the clearly different POV the parties have of what went down in Darabont’s contract and what he is actually entitled to on the back end and for the likes of spinoff Fear The Walking Dead. “The extrinsic evidence does not permit this court to rule, as a matter of law, whether the Affiliate Transaction Provision applies to the imputed license fee,” Bransten said in denying the plaintiffs and then the defendants over the trip wire of license fees that have been ringed all over this case.
Of course, AMC and its new-ish lawyers could appeal the December 7 order and take its case to the new judge, once one is appointed after Justice Bransten leaves the bench at the end of this year. However that doesn’t seem to be in the cards today, as both sides claimed victory in what has become a bare knuckles affair.
“We are pleased that the Court denied AMC’s motion for summary judgment as to every key claim in Plaintiffs’ case,” said CAA and Darabont attorney Dale Kinsella of Santa Monica-based Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP, who, along with NYC’s Blank Rome, are repping the plaintiffs, on Monday to Deadline. “We look forward to proceeding to trial on Plaintiffs’ claims, which now exceed a quarter billion dollars.”
“We are very pleased with today’s decision,” declared Orin Snyder, AMC’s main lawyer since early this year. “It is a victory.”
“The judge denied plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment outright on the fundamental issue in the case,” the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher attorney asserted in a statement to Deadline. “The judge also awarded summary judgment to AMC on four of plaintiffs’ claims, throwing them out completely,” he added. “We now look forward to trial where we are confident we will prevail.”
“A jury will see right through this scheme,” Snyder concluded after slamming CAA and their lawyers for a supposed “money grab” and more rhetoric heard before in the matter. “We appreciate the judge’s careful and thorough review of the arguments and look forward to victory at trial.”
Since this case was first filed, not only has the TV landscape changed considerably, so has the now-on-hiatus TWD itself and AMC’s legal reps. Besides sudden profit participation payouts in the millions in the summer of 2017 to principals like Darabont and Kirkman, what has also changed is that the comic creator, along with the likes of fellow EP Gale Anne Hurd and Darabont’s replacement as showrunner Glen Mazzara, who was fired himself after two seasons on the show, sued AMC in August 2017 over millions in profits that they claim they were cheated out of too. Add to that a $10 million dollar suit that CAA and Darabont launched in January of this year from an examination of Kirkman’s own profit participation deal with AMC – a suit that drove AMC mad in what they consider an effort by the plaintiffs to muddy the already murky waters of the whole matter.
So, with all that in mind and the victory claims, the more things have changed today, the more they have actually stayed the same in a lawsuit that is far, far from over.