Warner Bros. kicks them 'Dukes of Hazzard' from federal courtWed Jul 15, 2009 @ 01:59AM PST
By Matthew Belloni
For the second time in a week, Warner Bros. has landed a punch in its ongoing boxing match with copyright lawyer Marc Toberoff. On the heels of the studio's trial win on a small accounting issue in the Toberoff-led Superman litigation, a judge has bounced a $15 million case Toberoff brought on behalf of the writer of the "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show from federal court.
Due to various profits disputes and lawsuits over the years, Gy Waldron is entitled to 6.5% of gross receipts from the "Dukes" show and any "spin-offs." He now claims Warners isn't paying his percentage on the 2005 theatrical version of "Dukes" and a 2007 straight-to-DVD sequel.
But Waldron isn't the actual plaintiff here. He apparently had a heart attack last year and assigned his rights to a Trust in South Dakota, and First National Bank in Sioux Falls brought the January lawsuit in Federal court as the trustee.
Now the case has been dismissed from federal court for lack of jurisdiction. Federal courts are for disputes between parties from different states, but Judge Gary Feess (who so memorably ruined Warners' Christmas in the "Watchmen" litigation with Fox) found that the South Dakota trust was actually being controlled by Waldron, a California resident.
"Waldron's power over the Trust strongly suggests that his assignment of claims was primarily for the purposes of collection, i.e. to permit the Trust to attempt to recover damages in this Court, where Waldron is unable to proceed," Feess wrote.
Legal issues aren't new to the "Dukes" franchise. Waldron threw his hat in the ring with a similar claim in 2005 during the last round of litigation brought by the owners of "Moonrunners," the original source material for the show. (If you recall, Toberoff convinced a judge to issue an injunction against the release of the first film, which caused Warners to pony up a reported $14 million settlement, an annoyance it is no doubt hoping to avoid this time around.) Waldron's claims never went anywhere in the first case.
Toberoff says he'll either appeal this ruling or just file the case again in state court. "It's not a ruling on the merits of the case," he reminded us.
Here's the judge's ruling.