DUCK DYNASTY CREATORS RECEIVE MAJOR SETBACK IN CASE AGAINST ITV STUDIOS
Steven T. Lowe
On January 7, 2019, a California appeals court reversed most of “Duck Dynasty” creators’ (Scott and Deidre Gurney) complaint against a British production company, ITV Studios, that bought most of their operation for $40 million and then refused to work with them. The appeals court said numerous paragraphs pursuant to an anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation motion filed by ITV was wrongfully dismissed by the District Court.
The Gurneys’ early 2017 complaint alleged that ITV smeared their reputation- with accusations that the Gurneys stole $3 million from the company in connection with a show called “Northern Territories,” which led to the Gurneys being terminated as CEOs by the board three days later- to wrangle a discounted price for their 38.5 percent minority stake in Gurney Productions LLC (the company that controls Duck Dynasty).
ITV had filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike portions of the Gurneys’ complaint that discussed two heated board meetings for Gurney Productions LLC. Those meetings took place Dec. 5 and Dec. 8, 2016. The two meetings count as “settlement negotiations,” a key category of protected activity under the anti-SLAPP law, the appeals court said. The law seeks to enforce the idea that a lawsuit shouldn’t be exercised to chill protected speech on matters of public interest, and it specifically protects settlement negotiations.
ITV argued “that the December 5 and December 8 board meetings constituted protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute. It argues further that the Gurneys cannot establish a probability of succeeding on their claims arising from those meetings because the statements the ITV directors made were entitled to the protection of the litigation privilege. We agree and reverse,” the appeals court said.
At least seven entire paragraphs in the Gurneys’ complaint and portions of nine more describe protected statements, the appeals court said, ordering a lower court to strike them.
However, the appeals court is allowing the Gurneys to “present evidence of the December 5 board meeting and the events leading up to it to the extent it is relevant to show that ITV did not provide them with notice of the alleged breaches or an opportunity to cure them.”
Scott Gurney, Deirdre Gurney and their Little Win LLC are represented by Michael Weinsten of Lavely Singer, Philip Kelly and Nicholas Daum of Kendall Brill & Kelly, and by Bryan Merryman of White & Case.
ITV Gurney Holding Inc., Brent Montgomery, Andrew Garard and David McGraynor are represented by Fred Rowley Jr., Mark Yohalem, John Schwab, and Nicholas Dufau of Munger Tolles & Olson. Gurney Productions LLC is represented by Paul Salvaty, Megan Dixon, Poopak Nourafchan, and Laura Groen of Hogan Lovells US.
The case is Gurney et al. v. ITV Gurney Holding Inc. et al., case number B286442, in the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District.
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