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Badalato v. Wish To Give Production, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

August 6, 2019

WILLIAM F. (BILLY) BADALATO, Plaintiff,
v.
WISH TO GIVE PRODUCTION, LLC; 1614 ENTERTAINMENT INC.; INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCE OF THEATRICAL STAGE EMPLOYEES, MOVING PICTURE TECHNICIANS, ARTISTS AND ALLIED CRAFTS OF THE UNITED STATES ITS TERRITORIES AND CANADA, AFL-CIO, CLC; IATSE LOCAL 491; SCOTT D. HARBINSON; VAL T. HILL; YALE BADIK; STEVEN P. WEGNER, Defendants.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on plaintiff's motion to remand (DE 28) and motion to dismiss counterclaims for failure to state a claim (DE 43). Also before the court are a motion to transfer venue by defendants 16:14 Entertainment Inc. (“16:14”), Yale Badik (“Badik”), Val T. Hill (“Hill”), Steven P. Wegner (“Wegner”) and Wish to Give Production, LLC (“WTGP”) (DE 32); and a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim by defendants Scott D. Harbinson, IATSE Local 491, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States Its Territories and Canada, AFL-CIO, CLC (“IATSE”) (collectively, “union defendants”) (DE 37). The issues raised have been fully briefed and are ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion to remand is granted and the court leaves the remaining motions for further proceedings in state court.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiff, a resident of Los Angeles, California, commenced this action in New Hanover County Superior Court by complaint filed February 6, 2019, asserting claims against defendants arising out of an alleged employment contract between plaintiff and defendant WTGP for work performed as “Executive Producer” on a film called “Hope's Wish” to be filmed on location in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 13, 29). Plaintiff asserts state law claims for unpaid wages, tortious interference with contract, civil conspiracy, defamation, actual fraud, wrongful termination, and unfair and deceptive trade practices.

         Plaintiff's claims are based on the assertion that the union defendants interfered with the alleged employment contract between plaintiff and WTGP, defendant Wegner made defamatory statements, defendants Hill and Badik made false representations, WTGP wrongfully terminated him and failed to pay wages due, and union defendants, Hill, Badik, and WTGP engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices. Plaintiff seeks compensatory, punitive, and trebled damages.

         Defendant WTGP noticed removal on March 29, 2019, asserting federal subject matter jurisdiction on the basis that plaintiff's claims are completely preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). Defendant WTGP asserts that plaintiff's claims necessitate the interpretation of provisions of a collective bargaining agreement governing plaintiff's work with WTGP.

         Plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand on April 23, 2019, relying on his declaration and excerpts of a “Directors Guild of America [‘DGA'] Basic Agreement of 2014.” (DE 29-2 at 2).[1]

         Defendants Hill, Badik, Wegner, 16:14 and WTGP, filed an answer and counterclaims, on April 26, 2019, along with the instant motion to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the Central District of California. In support of the motion to transfer, these defendants rely upon declarations of Badik, Hill, and their counsel. That same date, the union defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss, relying upon a declaration of Adrian Healy, associate counsel for IATSE.

         Defendant WTGP responded in opposition to plaintiff's motion to remand, relying on a declaration of Alan M. Brunswick (“Brunswick”), counsel for defendant WTGP, with reference to correspondence between him and the Directors Guild of America, Inc (“DGA”). Defendant WTGP also relies upon a declaration of defendant Badik, referencing the following documents: 1) a “Letter of Adherence” executed by DGA and Badik for WTGP; 2) documents pertaining to plaintiff's work for WTGP; and 3) excerpts of the DGA “Basic Agreement of 2014.”

         Plaintiff filed the instant motion to dismiss counterclaims of the union defendants, as well as a response in opposition to the union defendants' motion to dismiss, on May 17, 2019. That same date, plaintiff responded in opposition to the motion to transfer venue, relying upon his declaration. Plaintiff thereafter filed a reply in support of his motion to remand, relying upon his additional declaration.

         Defendants WTGP, 16:14, Badik, Hill, and Wegner, replied in support of their motion to transfer, relying upon a letter from counsel for plaintiff listing witnesses. That same date, the union defendants replied in support of their motion to dismiss. Defendants WTGP, 16:14, Badik, Hill, and Wegner, thereafter responded in opposition to plaintiff's motion to dismiss counterclaims relying upon a second declaration of Brunswick, attaching additional excerpts of the DGA “Basic Agreement of 2014.” (DE 52-1). Finally, on June 21, 2019, plaintiff replied in support of his motion to dismiss counterclaims.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS

         The facts alleged in the complaint may be summarized as follows.

         In April 2017, plaintiff, who had worked previously as a “production manager” and an “assistant to a producer” on prior films, “was approached regarding a potential role as Executive Producer of the film ‘Hope's Wish' (the ‘Film'), to be filmed in 2018 on location in Charlotte, North Carolina and to star Queen Latifah.” (Compl. ¶¶ 12-13). Defendants Hill, Badik, and Wegner “were three of the Film's producers.” (Id. ¶ 13). “Throughout the remainder of 2017, [plaintiff] worked in furtherance of the Film, awaiting funding of the Film before joining the venture as an employee.” (Id.). “It was understood and agreed that, partially in exchange for his services to the venture in this prefunding stage, [plaintiff] would be named Executive Producer of the Film after funding had been secured and that his compensation as Executive Producer would reflect the value of the services rendered in the pre-funding stage.” (Id.).

         On January 22, 2018, plaintiff attended a meeting with defendants Hill, Badik, and Wegner. During the meeting, defendants Hill and Badik “stated that the Film had secured full funding, in an amount in excess of $20 million, and that the funds were fully in place and available for the Film.” (Id. ¶ 14). Defendants Hill and Badik further “stated that, because they had secured full funding for the Film, they were ‘green-lighting' the Film.” (Id.). According to plaintiff, “[i]n the entertainment industry, ‘green-lighting' is a term that refers to a preproduction stage in which offices are opened, stages rented, and crew hired to produce the Film.” (Id.). “Green-lighting marks the point at which money on a film can be spent and thus only occurs once there has been a funding commitment.” (Id.).

         According to plaintiff, in reliance on the representations by defendants Hill and Badik described in the preceding paragraph, plaintiff “agreed to join the venture as an employee, serving as Executive Producer of the Film.” (Id. ¶ 15). Plaintiff's “first date of employment was January 22, 2018.” Plaintiff “would not have agreed to be an employee of the venture, would not have agreed to serve as Executive Producer of the Film, and would not have elected to forgo other valuable business opportunities had he known that full funding for the Film had not in fact been secured.” (Id.). ...


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