Court of Appeal:
CBS Faces Possible Liability in Lawsuit Alleging Bullying
Baker Says Allegations of Responsibility for Conduct by Persons Seeking to Deter Plaintiff From Pursuing Claims
To Portion of Proceeds From 2015 ‘Fight of the Century’ Were Not Properly Stricken Under Anti-SLAPP Law
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district has reversed an order granting an anti-SLAPP motion by the company that owns the CBS and the Showtime television networks, saying that the order improperly directs a striking of claims of vicarious liability based on the conduct of persons—including “goons”—who allegedly tried to bully a man into dropping a claim for a promised “finder’s fee” amounting, by his calculation, to $6 million.
Actor/waiter Gabriel Rueda brought the action on Feb. 24, 2016, contending that in 2014, he arranged a meeting between Leslie Moonves, then-president and CEO of CBS and Showtime, and Freddie Roach, then-trainer of boxer Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao. The objective was to bring about a televised match between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather for the welterweight championship of the world.
Moonves allegedly promised Rueda that if a match took place—as it did on May 2, 2015, with Mayweather winning—he would be paid two percent of the proceeds. Both Showtime and HBO broadcast the contest, billed as the “fight of the century.”
Lawyer’s Alleged Threat
Although profits exceeded $160 million, Rueda was allegedly told by Keith M. Davidson, an attorney for CBS and Showtime, at a meeting in June 2015, that he would either accept $50,000, in tax-free funds, or face consequences, including loss of his job as a waiter and that he would “never work as an actor in this town again.”
Rueda rejected the offer and sued Pacquiao, Roach, Davidson, CBS, and Showtime based on the refusal to pay him his assertedly promised share.
Pacquiao and Davidson in 2016, filed anti-SLAPP motions, contending that Rueda’s allegations of extortion and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”)—which at that point were not alleged against CBS or Showtime, but did apply to Does 1-6—stemmed from the lawyer’s conversation with the plaintiff and was protected, as a settlement offer. Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal on Oct. 11, 2018, in an unpublished opinion by Acting Presiding Justice Lamar Baker, affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court David Sotelo’s denial of the special motion to strike on the ground that the $50,000 offer was not made in anticipation of litigation.
On Sept. 11, 2019, Rueda amended the complaint to substitute CBS Corporation for Doe 1 and Showtime Networks, Inc. for Doe 2. Those defendants brought an anti-SLAPP motion as to the cause of action for extortion—in which it was alleged that “goons from the Wildcard Gym,” of which Roach was a member, “harassed, stalked, beset and terrorized Rueda on behalf of Roach and Pacquiao”—and the cause of action for IIED.
Sotelo granted the motion in its entirety as to the two causes of action.
Went Too Far
The judge “did not err in determining some allegations in the extortion and intentional infliction of emotional distress causes of action should be stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute,” Baker, again the acting presiding justice, said in Wednesday’s unpublished opinion. But he declared that the “ruling striking those causes of action in their entirety was too broad.”
Baker said that persons described as “goons,” one Richie Palmer, identified in a declaration by Rueda as someone who threatened him, and other non-parties, which includes persons who allegedly slashed his tires, did not engage in protected conduct under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure §425.16.
“The CBS Defendants did not contend in their motion below, nor do they contend on appeal, that the third party conduct alleged in the complaint (i.e., conduct of others besides the named defendants)—specifically, the ‘pattern of harassment, assault, stalking, mocking, tire slashing, career and job destruction’—constitutes protected activity. Rueda contends this third party conduct is unprotected by the anti-SLAPP statute and the CBS Defendants have not demonstrated otherwise. We agree that this alleged third party conduct is unprotected.
“Instead of arguing that the third party conduct is somehow protected, the CBS Defendants’ argue these allegations were properly stricken along with everything else in the challenged causes of action because Rueda has not alleged the CBS Defendants themselves participated in any assault, harassment, or other bad act. They acknowledge Rueda’s vicarious liability allegations against them, but they contend the allegations should be disregarded because they are conclusory. As a result, they contend the claims were properly stricken in their entirety against the CBS Defendants. In so arguing, the CBS Defendants effectively contend the anti-SLAPP motion was properly granted because the extortion and IIED causes of action fail to state claims against them. This argument, which goes to the merits of Rueda’s claims, is not an appropriate inquiry for the first step of an anti-SLAPP analysis.”
If the CBS Defendants believed Rueda’s claims that they were liable based on the acts of third parties were insufficiently stated and wished to have them dismissed, they could have filed a demurrer or other motion so arguing. They cannot circumvent procedure by asking a court to excise portions of the complaint they believe are insufficient via an anti-SLAPP motion.”
The case is Rueda v. ViacomCBS, Inc., f/k/a/ CBS Corporation, B310123.
Although the caption identifies ViacomCBS as a defendant, that entity—formed on Dec. 4, 2019, when CBS and Viacom merged—was renamed on Feb. 16, 2022, as “Paramount Global,” not reflected in the opinion.
Amman A. Khan of the Century City firm of Withers Bergman represented Rueda. Lee S. Brenner, Joshua M. Rosenberg, and Michael C. Godino of Venable LLP, also located in Century City, acted for the defendants.
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