Foxcroft Productions, Inc. v. Universal City Studios, LLC (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1119

The creators of the 1970s hit television series Columbo were contractually entitled to a share of the show’s net profits—but the studio failed to pay them anything for decades, representing that the show had no net profits.  Eventually, the studio sent an accounting statement revealing that it had kept $160 million in “distribution fees” for itself.  The creators sued the studio for fraud and breach of contract.

The trial court ruled that the fraud claim was time-barred, but let the contract claim to go to trial.  The jury found in the creators’ favor and awarded them $70 million.  The trial court then granted the studio’s motion for a new trial, finding that it had erred in allowing the jury to interpret a key term in the parties’ contract—the definition of “photoplays”—and that the verdict may have improperly rested on a contract misinterpretation.  The court denied the studio’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV).

Both sides appealed.  Representing the creators, GMSR argued among other things that the trial court erred in dismissing the fraud claim and that the studio’s JNOV argument lacked merit.  The Court of Appeal agreed:  It affirmed the denial of JNOV, and ordered that the new trial include the creators’ erroneously-dismissed fraud claim.  This appellate victory ensures that the creators will have another opportunity to vindicate their royalty rights at trial.

To read the Court of Appeal Opinion, click HERE.