Thursday, September 21, 2006
S.C. to Decide if Actress’ Manager May Sue for Commissions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether actress Rosa Blasi’s former personal manager may pursue an action against her for unpaid commissions, even though the manager may have violated the state Talent Agency Act.
Revisiting a contentious area of California entertainment law—the distinction between talent agents, who need licenses, and personal managers, who do not—the justices voted unanimously to review a ruling by Div. One of this district’s Court of Appeal. That panel reversed a summary judgment in favor of Blasi and reinstated Marathon Entertainment, Inc.’s breach of contract suit.
The action was taken at the high court’s weekly conference in San Francisco.
The case arose from a contract that Blasi and Marathon entered into in 1998. Marathon was to serve as Blasi’s personal manager in exchange for a percentage of Blasi’s entertainment employment income earned during the course of the contract.
Blasi terminated the contract in 2001, and in 2003 Marathon sued her alleging that it had performed contracted-for-services-such as providing the down payment on Blasi’s home and covering her travel expenses—but Blasi allegedly reneged on her agreement to pay a 15% commission from her employment contract for the Strong Medicine television series.
Blasi co-starred in the series, in which she played a street-savvy single mother working as a doctor at a women’s heath center, for six years. The last episode aired earlier this year.
After obtaining a labor commissioner’s finding that Marathon had violated the Talent Agency Act during the course of its personal management agreement with her by soliciting and procuring employment on her behalf without a talent agency license, Blasi moved for summary judgment on the theory that Marathon’s unlawful actions rendered the entire agreement unenforceable as an illegal contract.
Writing for the Court of Appeal, Justice Frances Rothschild agreed with Marathon that there was a possibility of enforcing the disputed commission provision by severing out the unlawful parts of the agreement from the contract.
The judge explained that law and equity generally disfavor forfeiture and noted that Marathon’s personal management contract served a lawful purpose, while Blasi produced no evidence in her summary judgment motion that Marathon’s illegal talent agency activities were linked to her Strong Medicine employment contract.
“Under the doctrine of severability of contracts, it is possible that Marathon, despite allegedly having violated the Act, may recover a commission on an artist’s employment contract that was legally procured,” Rothschild said, concluding that the summary judgment order was erroneous because triable issues of material fact existed regarding the severability of the agreement.
The justice also rejected Blasi’s contention that allowing recovery for personal managers that engage in unlicensed talent agency activities would destroy their incentive to comply with the act.
“We believe that permitting the possible recovery of commissions on lawfully procured employment contracts but barring such recovery on illegally procured employment contracts will provide personal managers with ample financial incentive to comply with the Act,” she wrote.
Among those asking the high court to review the decision or depublish the Court of Appeal opinion were the labor commissioner, the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Directors Guild of America.
The case is Marathon Entertainment, Inc. v. Blasi, B179819.
In other conference action, the high court:
•Denied review of Third District Court of Appeal ruling upholding a state law that requires overseas absentee voters to waive their right to a secret ballot if they choose to send in their votes by fax.
Overturning a contrary ruling by a Sacramento Superior Court judge, the appellate panel held that the secrecy waiver required by Election Code Sec. 3103.5 does not violate the right to a secret ballot under the state Constitution. The panel said the law reasonably balances the secret-ballot guarantee against the right to vote, and that the petitioners failed to present substantial evidence of improprieties in the way the law has been implemented.
The case is Bridgeman v. McPherson, C0505028.
•Agreed to decide whether federal law exempts a loan company affiliated with a federally regulated institution from the Rees-Levering Act, a state consumer protection law governing automobile financing. The Third District answered that question in the affirmative in WFS Financial, Inc. v. Superior Court (De La Cruz) , C051414.
•Agreed to consider whether, to establish liability of a public entity for injury caused by a dangerous condition of its property, a plaintiff must prove that the public entity acted negligently or wrongfully even though the public entity created the dangerous condition. The Third District imposed that burden in Metcalf v. County of San Joaquin, C047734.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company