A federal judge has denied the Justice Department’s request to participate in Friday’s hearing on the WGA’s motion to dismiss the Big Three talent agencies’ antitrust lawsuits against the guild. It’s a major procedural victory for the guild, which said last week that it saw no reason for the DOJ to take part in the hearing.
In his order (read it here), U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte Jr. noted: “On November 26, 2019, the United States filed a statement of interest in this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 517. In sum, the United States stated that development of the factual record is necessary to properly resolve this case, and that the United States takes no position on this case’s merits. On November 27, 2019, the United States filed a request to participate in the December 6, 2019 hearing on defendants Writers Guild of America, West, Inc. and Writers Guild of America, East, Inc.’s (‘Defendants’) motion to dismiss. Defendant s oppose this request.”
The DOJ, though asserting that it “takes no position in the merits of this case,” had urged the court to let it speak at the hearing, and for the court to reject the guild’s argument “that it can apply the labor exemptions from the antitrust laws in this case on the pleadings. Development of a factual record is necessary to ensure that both the federal antitrust laws and the labor exemptions from the antitrust laws are given their proper scope, and that the fundamental national values protecting competition embodied in the federal antitrust laws are not displaced improperly.”
Birotte, however, disagreed, writing: “The United States’ request to participate in the December 6, 2019 hearing on Defendant s’ motion to dismiss is denied. It is so ordered.”
In opposing the DOJ’s weighing in on the case in favor of WME, CAA and UTA, WGA West president David A. Goodman said last week that “It’s not surprising that Trump’s Justice Department has filed a brief designed to weaken a labor union’s effort to protect its members and eliminate conflicts of interest by talent agencies. The agencies’ antitrust claims are contrary to Supreme Court precedent, and we remain confident that the court will dismiss them.”
The WGA filed suit in state court against the Big 4 agencies on April 17 – just days after it ordered all of its members to fire their agents who refuse to sign its original Code of Conduct, which banned packaging fees. CAA, WME and UTA countersued in federal court in June, claiming that the guild was involved in an “unlawful group boycott.” In August, the guild dropped its lawsuit in state court and consolidated its claims in federal court – where it now sits.
The next court date, which is scheduled for December 6, is set to hear the guild’s motion to dismiss the agencies’ consolidated anti-trust complaint. ICM Partners had originally been a defendant in the state case – which the guild dropped in August – and was not named as a defendant when the WGA consolidated its claims in federal court, leading the agency to claim “victory.”
The WGA had no immediate response to Birotte’s order barring the DOJ from participating at Friday’s hearing, but no doubt sees it as a victory.