Alleged de Armas Fans Get Nothing in Misleading-Trailer Lawsuit

She was there at one point

First, thanks to the Washington State Bar group that invited me to speak at its midyear meeting last week. I hope everyone enjoyed learning all the vitally important facts I presented.

Thanks also to the TSA for not reminding me my driver’s license was expired, which I realized only after landing in Seattle, so I was unable to rent a car; the cab driver who scammed me out of $20 and in doing so made me miss the last bus to the location; the Washington State Bar group again for agreeing to let me appear remotely; and the Doubletree at Seatac Airport for leaving Meeting Room 13 unlocked. (The wifi signal I stole left something to be desired, but otherwise it was a very nice facility.)

In other news, Variety reports that the two jokers who sued Universal Studios claiming that a movie trailer misled them into believing Ana de Armas would appear in the film Yesterday have finally dropped the lawsuit. According to the report, de Armas did appear briefly in the trailer because, at the time, she was meant to appear briefly in the movie. But her role was cut before the movie was released. Peter Rosza and Conor Woulfe alleged that they each paid to rent the movie only because they believed de Armas would be in it, but were so disappointed after not seeing her they felt their $3.99 had been wasted. They therefore sued to get their $7.98 back.

Oh, they also alleged that a large class of other people existed who had also rented the movie for the very same reasons they did and were disappointed in the very same way.

Would a reasonable consumer believe a movie was worthless, or worth less than expected, because a particular actor did not appear in it? Maybe. If so, that person should probably get their $3.99 back. Is there any chance in hell that such a claim could be certified as a class action? Well, sure, but in Hell the standard for certification is much lower. In the real world, the answer is no, or at least should be no. But this case got past an initial motion to dismiss, meaning that it then hung around for two long years.

Universal argued that trailers are “works of art” that are entitled to full First Amendment protection. The judge held instead that they are “commercial speech,” which is still protected but not to the same degree, so some part of the claim got past that hurdle. But some didn’t. That meant Universal’s anti-SLAPP motion (seeking to dismiss claims that implicate the First Amendment) had been at least partly successful, and that meant Universal was entitled to recover some legal fees. According to the report, this meant the plaintiffs who might be getting their $7.98 back were definitely on the hook for $126,705 in fees.

Having now taken a quick look at the court’s ruling on Universal’s motion for attorney fees, I am compelled to publicize the plaintiffs’ argument that the fee-shifting provision of the anti-SLAPP statute violates the Equal Protection Clause because it “favors movie studios.” They made other very bad arguments, but that one stands out. Even if it did favor movie studios, to the best of my knowledge movie renters are not a protected class.

In August 2023, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification. Did they take the hint? No they did not. Instead, they served more discovery requests, costing Universal even more money. And as Universal pointed out in a sanctions motion that followed, because class certification had been denied, the two plaintiffs were pressing on with “a case that is now worth $7.98.” (At most.) A hearing on that motion was set for April 30, and trial was set for May 21. But last week, the plaintiffs finally gave up.

According to Variety, the settlement terms ere disclosed in a later court filing, and “[t]he plaintiffs get nothing.” More specifically, they are not getting their $7.98 back. But Universal did agree to let them off the hook for attorneys’ fees, which is kind of a shame. I only recognize one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, but that one has been repeatedly called out by judges for filing ridiculous cases. See, e.g., “Court Tosses Lawsuit Claiming Mac & Cheese Took Too Long to Make” (Aug. 2, 2023). Not much seems to deter that guy, but having to pay a share of the $126,705 fee award might have slowed him down a little.

By the way, Yesterday was about a guy who wakes up one day to find he’s the only person in the world who remembers that the Beatles existed. I thought maybe these plaintiffs were the only people in the world who remembered Yesterday existed, but it seems to have done pretty well at the box office.