EXCLUSIVE: In a world that is often feeling a bit too close to The Walking Dead right now, the upcoming trial over the $300 million-dollar profit participation battle between Frank Darabont and CAA and AMC just got pushed back to later this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, a New York State judge gave the Dolan family run cabler a bit of a black eye and rejected its move to see part of the matter tossed out.
After years and years of summary judgement attempts, briefs, brittle letters and more, the initial seven-year old case was set to finally go to trial in late May. With COVID-19 essentially bringing the courts to a halt, Justice Joel Cohen now says the trial will start on November 2, 2020. Honestly that looks optimistic and lawyers on both sides pencilling in early 2021, I hear.
“Taking all the circumstances into account, the Court concludes that the relevant agreements are ambiguous with respect to the definition of MAGR as applied to the accounting issues in dispute and that material issues of fact remain for trial,” wrote the Empire State Supreme Court official in an April 10 decision made public Monday (READ IT HERE), striking down AMC’s effort to dismiss the secondary $10 million action that CAA and their client hit the outlet with in January 2018 declaring that the once home of Mad Men “used a variety of shady accounting practices” to keep big bucks out of the accounts of Darabont and other profit participators. With the Modified Adjusted Gross Receipts calculations just one of many money issues at the heart of both suits, AMC made a lunge in December of last year to get the second case stopped.
They were clearly unsuccessful, as the 20-page sometimes strongly worded decision and order on motion from Justice Cohen states.
“Accordingly, it would be inappropriate to dismiss Plaintiffs’ breach of contract claims on summary judgment,” Cohen added over the matter that has long been melded with the more than $300 million suit that the showrunner of the first season of the zombie apocalypse series launched back in the pre-streaming wars days of late 2013. “The determination of whether AMC acted arbitrarily, irrationally, or in bad faith in defining and applying MAGR so as to breach the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing presents disputed questions of fact for trial.”
“For the reasons stated above, AMC’s motion for summary judgment is denied,” concludes Justice Cohen in a matter that has seen numerous delays and denials on both sides over the years.
Unsurprisingly, considering the history, both sides claimed victory today
“Plaintiffs are pleased that the court has soundly rejected AMC’s final effort to keep plaintiffs’ case from being heard by a jury,” the superagency and The Shawshank Redemption director’s lead lawyer Dale Kinsella told Deadline this morning. “We look forward to the trial in November and the vindication of Mr. Darabont and CAA’s claims,” the Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert partner declares.
“Today’s ruling on the accounting portion of the CAA litigation confirms what all parties have been expecting for many months – this case will be tried in front of a jury and we look forward to that happening later this year,” countered AMC’s top outside attorney Orin Snyder. “We believe the facts are clearly on our side and that a jury will agree that the most sophisticated and experienced deal-makers in the entertainment business should not be able to turn to the courts to renegotiate valid agreements they entered into years ago just because The Walking Dead became a bigger hit than anyone anticipated,” says the Gibson Dunn partner.
Justice Cohen’s ruling comes as this past weekend’s Season 10 finale of The Walking Dead was postponed because of coronavirus post-production delays and the latest spinoff of the show based on Robert Kirkman’s comics has seen its premiere kicked off the calendar for the time being.
Speaking of Kirkman, a L.A. Superior Court judge is still scheduled to offer a late May decision or at least guidance in the EP’s minitrial against AMC that wrapped up for all practical matters back in early March, just before widespread stay-at-home orders kicked in for the City of Angels. However, with the courts out here also essentially shuttered, any announcements from Judge Daniel Buckley looks likely to be a while, at best.
Filed in August 2017 and building in many ways off the big bucks action by ex-TWD showrunner Darabont and CAA, the lawsuit from Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert and other EPs claims that AMC used sleight-of-hand financial moves to brazenly rip them off via contested MAGR calculations and more.
As of today, there are nearly 1.9 million confirmed cases of the potentially fatal coronavirus worldwide with over 500,000 cases in the United States itself and New York hit the hardest domestically.