Friday, January 29, 2010

By Matthew Belloni

Here's an appellate decision that should be of interest to showbiz lawyers who navigate the murky waters of California's Talent Agencies Act.

In our experience, courts tend shy away from interfering with TAA disputes pending before the California Labor Commission, the venue in which actors and others often try to extricate themselves from contracts by arguing that someone acted as an unlicensed talent agent.

So we were a bit surprised to see this week that the California Court of Appeal has bitten reality TV personality Duane "Dog" Chapman on the hand, ruling that a New York lawsuit filed by would-be "Dog the Bounty Hunter" producer Boris Krutonog against the producers and distributors of the hit A&E show can go forward at the same time as Chapman continues to battle Krutonog in front of the Labor Commissioner.

Here's the ruling.

California's TAA is a peculiar law, requiring that the question of whether someone has acted as an unlicensed talent agent be answered at a hearing before the Labor Commissioner. That proceeding, which can take years to finalize, typically puts all other disputes between the parties on hold. The Dog dustup concerns a 2004 life rights agreement that allegedly gave Krutonog the right to produce a show about Chapman and, in Chapman's view, provided that Krutonog would "procure employment" for Chapman â€" the big no-no under the TAA. But six months after the Commissioner began hearing the Dog case, Krutonog filed a lawsuit in New York against A&E, Hybrid Films, D&D Television Prods. and producer David Houts claiming he was aced out of a co-executive producer credit and as much as $5 million in compensation from the show.

A lower court ruled that the New York action should wait until the Labor Commissioner determines whether the contract between Dog and Krutonog is valid. But today the Court of Appeal reversed, saying that because Dog isn't a party to the New York action, that case can go forward and A&E et al must defend themselves even as the Labor Commissioner continues to ponder whether to void Dog's deal with Krutonog. The money quote:

"The contract claims alleged by Krutonog in his New York action, however, involve a different contract or contracts, and none of the authorities cited to us by the Chapmans persuades us that the Labor Commissioner has any jurisdiction to make any ruling regarding the validity of Krutonog's contract or contracts with the producers and the distributors of the Dog show."

Now Krutonog is free to pursue the New York case against A&E and the producers. He's repped by Howard King and team at L.A.'s King Holmes. Chapman is repped by Marty Singer and team at Lavely & Singer.