California Appellate Court Won’t Nix Screenwriter’s Claims Against CAA
Steven T. Lowe
On December 15, 2021, the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) failed to shake lawyer-turned-writer John Musero’s lawsuit. The California appellate court issued a published opinion affirming the lower court’s decision that CAA cannot use California’s anti-SLAPP statute to strike Musero’s breach of contract and fiduciary duty lawsuit. The anti-SLAPP statute provides for a motion to strike the lawsuit at its inception if (a) the claims are based upon free speech or a matter of public interest, and (b) the plaintiff cannot show that the lawsuit has merit. Thus, the plaintiff’s claims, having survived the anti-SLAPP motion, will proceed to trial.
In March 2019, Musero filed suit against the major talent agency, CAA. Musero alleged that his agents, Andrew Miller and Leah Yerushalaim, thwarted his show, Main Justice, to benefit the agency’s “more powerful” clients. Musero claims that Miller and Yerushalaim went behind his back to share his ideas with their other client, Mark Gordon Co., an independent studio behind multiple popular TV series including Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds.
While Musero entered into a one-year option agreement with The Mark Gordon Co. to continue working on Main Justice, Musero claimed his agents “refused to help him” when he complained he was not getting paid for his work. The Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Main Justice, written by Sacha Penn, was never broadcast, but Musero alleged CBS approved the Bruckheimer pilot, which was “cast and produced for millions of dollars” and resulted in significant economic benefits to CAA. Also, Musero alleged that selling a competing project, it foreclosed any possibility that Musero could exploit his project. The Gordon Company did not exercise its option to purchase Musero’s project and the option expired. Ultimately, Musero received no compensation whatsoever (other than a small option fee). Based upon the foregoing, Musero claimed that his agents breached their contractual and fiduciary duties.
The lower court denied the anti-SLAPP motion that CAA filed. The appellate court agreed with LA Superior Court Judge, the Honorable Yolanda Orozco, that the creation of a TV show does involve “protected activity” but ruled unanimously that the alleged wrongdoing is “not sufficiently connected to a public interest.” The panel stated, “the other creative elements allegedly misappropriated by Miller and CAA for Penn’s benefit are even further removed from any public interest in the professional and personal life of former Attorney General Holder, or any nonfictional individual who held the office.” Based upon that finding, the appellate court found that the Anti-SLAPP statute did not apply to this case.
Musero is represented by Stephen Doniger, Scott Alan Burroughs, and Frank Gregory Casella of Doniger Burroughs Law Firm.
CAA is represented by Craig Holden of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP.
The case is John Musero v. Creative Artists Agency LLC et al., case number B305066, in the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven.
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