Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Courts Cannot Overturn Decisions on Awarding Oscars—C.A.
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Academy Awards are not subject to judicial review, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Affirming Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edward A. Ferns’ decision in favor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Div. Five held that the common law right of fair procedure does not apply to decisions made by private organizations regarding the criteria for giving awards.
The plaintiff, Bob Yari, was one of six people who received screen credit as producers of the movie Crash, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2006. In the past, the academy presented the Best Picture award to all of the individuals designated as producers in the film, but in 2005, the criteria were changed.
Under the academy’s new rules, only three or fewer individuals with screen credit as a producer, “who have performed the major portion of the producer function,” could be nominees for the Best Picture award, and the Producers Guild of America’s Branch Executive Committee would designate the nominees.
If a film was nominated with more than three credited producers, the guild would send an application and eligibility form to the credited producers to describe their respective responsibilities for the film. Yari’s application was unsuccessful, and he filed suit.
Yari alleged that the guild and academy were powerful, quasi-public institutions which controlled the movie producing industry, and that their arbitrary decision making process violated their own rules, and denied him the credit he deserved.
Deprived of Benefits
He claimed that he was deprived of the “recognition, prestige, financial and professional benefits attained by only the most successful motion picture producers. He further contended that his reputation was damaged because the guild’s and academy’s decision implied that he was merely a financier of the film who did not participate in the creative aspects of producing the movie.
Yari requested an injunction to prohibit the guild and academy from making any future credit determinations and requiring that they change their criteria, as well as monetary damages.
Ferns sustained a demurrer to Yari’s complaint, but the Court of Appeal sided with the trial judge.
The common law right of fair procedure was developed in the Marinship-Pinsker-Ezekial-Potvin line of cases, Justice Orville A. Armstrong explained. The cases hold that “the right to practice a lawful trade or profession is sufficiently ‘fundamental’ to require substantial protection against arbitrary administrative interference, either by government … or by a private entity.”
Exclusion of Individuals
The Marinship-Pinsker cases all involved situations where an individual was excluded or expelled from membership in gatekeeper organizations, such as labor unions or professional associations. Thus, Armstrong explained, “the right applies only to private decisions which can effectively deprive an individual of the ability to practice a trade or profession.”
The court noted that the guild is not a labor union. Although Yari’s complaint alleged that the guild holds a “virtual monopoly in the specialized field of motion picture producing” and regulates “the profession of motion picture producing,” and made similar allegations against the academy, Yari’s assertions “focus on defendants’ appearance of power, rather than their actual power,” Armstrong reasoned.
When read as a whole, Armstrong continued, the complaint evidenced that Yari produced Crash, received screen credit for the film, the film was financially and critically successful, and Yari continues to produce films. “The complaint thus alleged that defendants did not control Yari’s right to practice the trade or profession of movie producing,” Armstrong reasoned, “and that their negative response to his application for Best Picture producer credit did not significantly impair his ability to work.
The court also rejected Yari’s claim that the defendants were quasi-public agencies. “It is surely true that, as Yari argues, the public is interested in the motion picture industry.” Armstrong wrote, but this interest by the public “does not mean that industry-related organizations like defendants operate in the public interest.”
The justices also held that the guild and agency owed no fiduciary duty to Yari, and that his application did not create a contract, or a promise on which reliance was reasonable.
“All defendants did was decide whether Yari met their criteria for receiving one of their awards,” Armstrong concluded. “There is no judicial review of that decision, even if the winner will benefit from receiving the award, and the losing nominees will suffer by comparison…. To rule otherwise would be to rule that defendants’ awards are subject to judicial review.”
George R. Hedges of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, who represented the guild and academy said of that his clients are “thrilled” with the appellate court’s decision. “It’s very important to have this validation of the integrity of the process,” he added.
Yari “acted as a checkbook producer” with no creative involvement in the film, Hedges said. “Bruce Davis, executive director of the academy, had it right when he said that Bob Yari reminded him of a little boy who is going to hold his breath until you give him what he wants.”
Roger R. Crane, Thaddeus J. Stauber and Matthew Zandi of Nixon Peabody represented Yari. Zandi referred a request for comment to Crane, who could not be reached.
Presiding Justice Paul Turner and Justice Sandy R. Kriegler joined Armstrong in his opinion.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company