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Veteran Ordered to Pay Defendants’ Legal Fees in Hurt Locker Lawsuit

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The Hurt LockerA federal district judge has ordered the U.S. Army veteran that sued the makers of the Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker to pay their legal defense fees in the amount of nearly $200,000.

Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver had filed a lawsuit against Summit Entertainment LLC, screenwriter Mark Boal, and director Kathryn Bigelow alleging that the film was based on his story as an Army Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Technician in Iraq and that he wasn’t properly compensated. Boal had spent time with Sarver’s unit in Iraq before writing a profile of the EOD technician for Playboy and later, The Hurt Locker screenplay.

Sarver also alleged a violation of his right of publicity as well as claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, false light, breach of contract, and fraud.

Two months ago, Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen granted an “Anti-SLAPP” motion brought by defendants and threw out the lawsuit. To prevail on an Anti-SLAPP motion, a movant must show that he or she is engaged in protected, First Amendment activity, which the lawsuit itself seeks to curtail, and that the movant’s acts are related to a matter of public interest. (“SLAPP” stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”) Here, the judge held that the film fell under the statute because it was protected by the First Amendment (movies are, of course) and related to a matter of public interest (the war and those who fought it). The only way Sarver could have beaten this motion, then, would have been to show that he had a probability of prevailing on his claims. Sarver failed to do this, so his suit was thrown out.

But that’s not all: Under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute, a successful movant is entitled to attorney’s fees. So Sarver has been ordered to pay a total of $187,000 to cover the legal fees of Summit, Boal, Bigelow, and the production team.

Sarver had hoped to get the fees reduced, but Judge Nguyen called the amount reasonable in light of “the experience, reputation and ability of the defense attorneys.”

What do you think of this ruling? Was this case really the type that Anti-SLAPP was meant to discourage?

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December 22nd, 2011 at 1:29 pm