In a decision that may prove prophetic for Frank Darabont and CAA’s long-fought $300 million The Walking Dead profit-participation battle against AMC, the cabler just won a major victory that could prove a death knell to Robert Kirkman and other executive producers’ own legal actions against it.
After a delay of several months due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic essentially shutting down the courts, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Wednesday finally ruled on TWD comic creator Kirkman’s mini-trial to resolve contract interpretations with AMC arising out of a potentially multimillion-dollar case filed in August 2017.
With definitions and language centering on the likes of Modified Adjusted Gross Receipts and imputed license fees, Judge Daniel Buckley pummeled Kirkman’s case like Negan swinging Lucille in TWD‘s Season 7 opener, if you know what I mean.
“In accordance with the foregoing, it is hereby ORDERED: Issues One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven are decided in favor of Defendants; and This case proceeds to a full trial on the merits based on the contract interpretations so decided in this trial,” Judge Buckley said in a statement of decision released today (read it here).
It should be noted there were a total of seven issues at hand in the so-called mini-trial that kicked off February 10.
“Today’s decision is a total victory for AMC,” the cabler’s chief attorney Orin Snyder told Deadline this afternoon.
“The judge found in AMC’s favor on all seven issues that were presented at trial and confirmed that AMC honored its contracts and paid Mr. Kirkman and the other plaintiffs what they were owed,” the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher lawyer added. “As the court found, these plaintiffs had the most sophisticated lawyers and agents in Hollywood and they got what they bargained for.
“We are now turning our attention to the trial in New York — which involves very similar claims by CAA and Frank Darabont — secure in the knowledge that the first court to hold a trial on these issues ruled completely in AMC’s favor,” Snyder said.
Also delayed because of COVID-19, that trial with the first TWD showrunner and his agency is now set for April 2021 in NYC — though that could change again.
Building in many ways off that 2013-initiated big-bucks action by Darabont and CAA, the lawsuit filed three years ago by Kirkman, Gale Anne Hurd, David Alpert and fellow TWD EPs Charles Eglee and Glen Mazzara on this side of the country claims AMC used sleight-of-hand financial moves to brazenly rip them off via contested MAGR calculations and more.
In this first and telling round where the Bird Marella-represented Kirkman came up short, the judge wasn’t buying any of their POV.
“Ultimately, Plaintiffs’ effort to avoid the plain language of the agreements is unavailing,” Buckley wrote in today’s decision. “Even if Plaintiffs were correct and the calculation of MAGR was never agreed to, their claims would fail because they would have no contract to enforce,” he noted. “But in fact the parties did agree: AMC’s MAGR definition ‘shall’ control the calculation of MAGR. That resolves this issue, and much of this case.”
Still, as if to brand Kirkman and the other EPs with shame of sort,s the judge took the time to turn one of the plaintiff’s star witnesses and a Hollywood mandarin’s own testimony against them in his decision. “Plaintiffs’ own expert, Kenneth Ziffren, conceded that he ‘can’t point to any revenue, money,’ to which Mr. Kirkman was deprived, as a result of these intracompany affiliated rights transfers within A.M.C.,” Buckley proclaimed.
With the mini-trial wrapping in early March just before Los Angeles went into lockdown, Kirkman, Alpert and Hurd all took the stand along with super lawyer Ziffren. As Ronald Reagan’s name was oddly invoked on one occasion, and AMC execs past and present combed through dense contract explanations, most of the proceedings saw the lawyers, like Snyder and Bird Marella’s Ron Nessum, in a near constant state of objection and procedural friction that often stoked polite judicial scolding.
Perhaps more of an admonishment that came out of the mini-trial that lasted just more than a week is the fact that TWD, the once highest-rated show on all of TV, is so deeply in the red that no one at all has received profit participation payments since November 2018. That hits the bottom line with even more of a thud when you consider that besides TWD, Fear the Walking Dead and aftershow Talking Dead, all of which had their day in the legal sun during the mini-trial, AMC has a The Walking Dead: Beyond Worlds spinoff ready to roll.
Just two days beforeTWD’s top cast and creatives are set to appear at this year’s Comic-con@Home, Kirkman’s lawyers said Wednesday they are looking at “options” going forward from what is surely a stinging rebuke. A rebuke, but not the end – yet.