Judge Leans Toward Allowing Gerard Butler's 'Motor City' Lawsuit to Proceed
Though George Furla is off the hook, for now.
When the film Motor City wasn't made in 2012, it launched a flurry of lawsuits.
While a finance company took its beef with producers to arbitration in 2013, Gerard Butler's suit against Randall Emmett/George Furla Productions is one step closer to trial.
In a Thursday hearing, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff tentatively denied a motion for summary judgment as to most claims in the suit.
Butler sued Emmett/Furla in 2013, claiming the parties reached an agreement in which the actor would be paid $4 million on a pay-or-play basis for his participation in Motor City and he turned down other opportunities to keep his calendar open for the project. Further, Butler's attorney Marty Singer says the actor paid producers of Olympus Has Fallen $850,000 out of pocket to make sure that his scenes in the film wrapped in time for him to begin shooting on Motor City.
If Beckloff adopts his tentative ruling, it would leave in play the breach of oral contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and promissory estoppel claims.
Emmett/Furla's attorneys tried to have the case thrown out, claiming the parties never agreed to material terms and by Butler's logic "every agreement would become a binding oral agreement before it was reduced to writing."
"That’s not the law," said Emmett/Furla’s attorney Rick Rosenthal. "If that was the law, we’d be in a mess."
Butler's attorneys argue his agent, Jeremy Plager, reached an oral agreement over the phone with Emmett on the material terms that "the Picture was definitely going to start in mid-September 2012, and that Defendants would guarantee Butler $4 million in fixed compensation to render his acting services in the Picture." The deal also included an additional $2 million in deferred compensation, contingent compensation of 12.5 percent of 100 percent of the producer net receipts and approval rights on all promotional photographs.
What hadn't yet been hammered out were minor details, according to Butler's opposition filed by Michael Holtz, such as whether the screenplay had been approved and if the deal included certain perks.
Beckloff says what constitutes "material terms" is an issue of fact and the court will have to decide if deal points like Butler's personal trainer qualify.
In a social setting, the judge said, he'd say it's "ridiculous" for someone to rely on a phone call promising a $4 million job, but that doesn't mean the agreement won't hold up in court. He says he needs more context to make that decision.
During the hearing, Butler's attorneys agreed to dismiss their alter ego claims against Emmett and Furla, which means they won't be held personally liable if their business is found in breach of contract.
“We believe they did so because there was no evidence of bad faith or improper conduct,” says Rosenthal. “We view the rest of the case to be similarly meritless.”
At the moment, Furla is off the hook, but there's a separate breach of contract claim against Emmett. So he could still be found liable as an individual. Butler's attorneys say they may bring back the alter ego arguments if the court finds the production company breached its contract with the actor.
Beckloff is expected to issue his opinion next week, and a trial setting conference is scheduled for June 16.