Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, October 11, 2016


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C.A. Tosses Royalty Claim by Heirs of ‘Little Bill’ Artist




A visual artist who worked on the “Little Bill” cartoon series was not entitled to a royalty payment each time an episode of the series was rerun, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled.

Div. Four, in an unpublished opinion by Presiding Justice Norman Epstein, affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Feffer’s dismissal of all claims by the heirs of Varnette Patricia Honeywood. Honeywood, who died in 2010, at the age of 59, contracted with Games Productions, Inc. to serve as a consultant on the cartoon series based on books by Bill Cosby.

Fifty-two original episodes of the series ran on Nickelodeon between 1999 and 2004, with reruns broadcast thereafter.  Honeywood’s contract provided for a consulting fee of $1,000 for each episode “in which Ms. Honeywood renders and completes all services reasonably required” and “$500 per episode royalty in perpetuity.”

Revised Agreement

In 2009, she and the company revised their agreement, in part by providing that the royalty payment of $500 “per episode” would inure to the benefit of her successors and a revocable living trust she had previously set up.

In their lawsuit, filed in 2013, the heirs claimed that the contract entitled Honeywood to a $500 royalty each time one of the episodes was broadcast. The company responded that the contract only provided for a royalty for each of the 52 episodes, and that no other royalties had been paid, nor had any been claimed by Honeywood.

In granting summary judgment, Feffer concluded that the contract was unambiguous. Expert declarations offered by the plaintiffs were inadmissible, she ruled, because they offered improper legal conclusions about the meaning of the agreement.

C.A. Opinion

Presiding Justice Norman Epstein, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct.

The expert declarations, Epstein said, did not meet legal requirements for expert testimony on custom and usage. Even if they had, he said, they were inadmissible for other reasons.

“Even assuming the experts were qualified to render an opinion on industry custom and usage regarding royalty payments, the declarants provide little to no foundation for their conclusions regarding custom and usage in the entertainment industry,” the justice wrote.

“Instead, for the most part, they opine about the interpretation of the particular agreement at issue in this case,” he continued. “The court was rightfully skeptical of the unsupported conclusion that royalty payments are generally the same as residual payments.  And even assuming that conclusion to be correct, the court did not err in rejecting appellants’ attempt to use industry custom and usage to ‘contradict the express terms’ of the agreement, which clearly provide when royalty payments should be made.”

The jurist went on to say:

“The language of the agreement is neither ambiguous, nor does respondents’ long-standing interpretation of it, which Honeywood never contested in the decade before she died, involve an absurdity.”

Attorneys on appeal in Allen v. Games Productions, Inc., B265476, were Daniel A. Friedlander for the plaintiffs, and Kendall Brill & Kelly’s Philip M. Kelly, Nicholas F. Daum, and Meaghan Lert for the defendants.


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