In December of last year David Hester, former star of the hit A&E reality series Storage Wars brought suit against A&E and show producer Original productions alleging he was wrongfully terminated and that the series is rigged. Last Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson dismissed Hester’s claim of unfair business practices, and demanded that his claim for wrongful termination be more specific.
For those of you that have never watched the show, Hester is a professional junk collector of sorts; he purchased abandoned or repossessed storage lockers and them sells the contents to make a profit. Storage Wars depicts Hester and others similarly situated, bidding or competing for the lockers. Hester says the producers acted unethically by predetermining the outcomes of the bidding, which if true is in violation of the Communication Act of 1934.
Hester claims that A&E’s unfair business practices resulted in rigging the show by interfering the outcome of auctions, thereby making him look bad. A&E responded by bringing an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion. Judge Johnson seems to have agreed with defendants urging that Hester’s claim arises out of constitutionally protected speech thereby shifting the burden to Hester to demonstrate that he will be likely to succeed on the merits of his lawsuit if it were to proceed. The judge explained that Hester will be unsuccessful with this claim since unfair competition only regulates commercial business practices whereas his claim "arises entirely out of noncommercial conduct concerning the production and broadcast of an expressive work."
Hester’s attorney tried to persuade the judge that some of the activities in question were not ever broadcast on air and therefore they would fall within the category of commercial practices. Unfortunately Judge Johnson was not persuaded and said there was still a valid distinction between speech within an expressive work (such as broadcast television) and that which promotes commercial activities.
By the end of the hearing the judge also dismissed the claim of wrongful termination of employment, but did allow Hester the opportunity to re-file the claim assuming he is more specific with respect to his belief that the Communications Act of 1934 was violated.
Hester still stands to litigate other claims for breach implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing as well as breach of contract. A&E asserts that Mr. Hester is simply attempting "to convert a garden-variety breach of contract claim into a tabloid-worthy drama, in which Hester portrays himself as a crusading whistleblower."
For the record, it appears this isn't Mr. Hester's first time in the judicial arena, last summer he was taken to court by rapper Trey Songz over the alleged exploitation of the rapper's catchphrase. That matter has since been settled between the parties.
Well, I never cared much for the show anyway so now that Dave is gone I guess that is just one more reason to not tune in!
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