What sort of alimony do actors owe their managers upon divorce?
That age-old question is the subject of a heating-up lawsuit involving former "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow. A California appeals court has reignited a claim by Kudrow's former manager that she owes money.
Three years ago, Kudrow terminated Scott Howard, a business manager who had been representing her since 1991. The two operated under an oral deal where Howard provided management services for Kudrow in return for 10 percent commission on her income.
It was a lucrative arrangement for Howard, even after the commission was trimmed to just 5 percent in 2004, when the show ended its 10-year run. At the height of Kudrow's fame, she was getting nearly $1 million an episode for Friends, plus a share of the "backend" earnings of the show in syndication.
After Kudrow terminated Howard in 2007, he sued for breach of contract, alleging that she had failed to make ongoing commission payments for work that he had handled. Howard sought a declaration that he was entitled to receive his commissions on all of Kudrow's continuing earnings for work done between 1991 and 1997, even after Kudrow terminated him.
Because the deal was oral, Howard lacked written evidence of the terms, but nevertheless he attempted to show that it was customary in Hollywood for a personal manager to be paid post-termination commissions on work handled during the employment period. He sought to include the testimony of an expert, Martin Bauer, to show this.
Kudrow objected on the grounds that Bauer's assessment lacked a reasonable connection to the dispute. Howard sought a continuance that might allow him to address those deficiencies, but before he got the chance, a court dismissed the case on summary judgment.
In an unpublished decision released in late September, a California appeals court ruled that Howard should have gotten that chance. The court says the trial court abused its discretion by denying Howard's motion for continuance and that "even if the contract appears to be unambiguous on its face, extrinsic evidence (like what's customary in the entertainment industry) is admissible to disclose a latent ambiguity."
The summary judgment has been reversed and a trial court will once again consider what Kudrow might owe to her former personal manager.