Partial 'Storage Wars' victory for A&E as judge sets limits on rigging lawsuit
In December, "Storage Wars" star David Hester brought a big, splashy lawsuit against A&E and producer Original Productions that alleged he was wrongfully terminated and that the high-rated series is rigged.
A&E has scored first.
At a hearing on Tuesday, L.A. Superior Court judge Michael Johnson tossed Hester's claim of unfair business practices. The judge also demanded that Hester's claim of wrongful termination be more specific.
Hester is a professional buyer of abandoned storage lockers. "Storage Wars" shows him and other buyers competing for these lockers. Hester is challenging the producer's allegedly unethical behavior in "salting" storage units. The reality-TV star says that this runs in violation of the Communication Act of 1934, which prohibits "influencing, prearranging, or predetermining outcomes" in "contests of knowledge, skill, or chance."
One of Hester's claims was that A&E committed unfair business practices. As a result of alleged "interference and manipulation of the outcomes of the auctions shown" on "Storage Wars," he says that producers have made it appear that he is less skillful than his competition.
In response, A&E brought an anti-SLAPP motion to this claim.
Because Judge Johnson agrees that the claim arises from constitutionally-protected activity -- "Storage Wars" is expressive free speech -- the burden shifted to Hester to demonstrate a probability of prevailing before the claim went any further.
The judge says that Hester can't make the case, noting that unfair competition only regulates business practices within the arena of commercial speech and that Hester's claim "arises entirely out of non-commercial conduct concerning the production and broadcast of an expressive work."
Hester's lawyer attempted to point out that some of the activity that is being objected to wasn't aired. For example, producers issued press releases. The judge finds the argument "not persuasive," saying there is a distinction between speech promoting commercial activities and speech within an expressive work, and that Hester's real concern is the latter. Thus, Judge Johnson strikes the claim.
The judge also dismisses Hester's claim of wrongful termination of employment in violation of public policy, but allows Hester to revive the claim with more specificity as to the provision within the Communication Act of 1934 that he believes his firing violated.
Hester's other claims for breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing weren't addressed. A&E has said that Hester has been trying "to convert a garden-variety breach of contract claim into a tabloid-worthy drama, in which Hester portrays himself as a crusading whistleblower."
Hester is being represented by Marty Singer. A&E is being represented by Kelli Sager.
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