ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Julianna Margulies Plays "The Good Wife," But Is She a Good Client?


Julianna Margulies, from Wikimedia Commons

Talent management company D/F Management, (D/F) has filed this complaint in the Superior Court of California against actress Julianna Margulies, alleging breach of an oral contract.  D/F alleges that in early February, 2009, Margulies agreed that in consideration for D/F’s services to her, she would turn over 10% of all gross revenue earned through Margulies' employment in the entertainment industry. 

According to the Complaint and attached lovey-dovey e-mails, the parties got along swimmingly, with D/F assisting Margulies in landing the lead role in The Good Wife and a contract to promote L’Oreal cosmetics.  However, in April 2011, Margulies terminated her relationship with D/F and stopped paying the 10% commission.  D/F contends that, under industry custom, Margulies remains responsible for ongoing payment of 10% of her gross from industry work that D/F helped her get.  D/F seeks damages of no less than $420,000 and declaratory relief entitling D/F to 10% of Margulies earnings on from The Good Wife and L’Oreal going forward. 

An interesting aside.  The Complaint quotes an e-mail that Margulies allegedly sent to D/F in happier times.  As quoted, the e-mail reads as follows:

I'm tryng [sic] to figure out the situation [with my entertainment attorney] who I love, but I've been paying him a lot of money my whole career, he gets 5% of everything I do, but really only works once every blue moon for me, and I am finding that actors don't do that with lawyers anymore, they all do flat rates.  With the 3rd year coming up, (i'm [sic] talking about the syndication deal etc....) it feels like too much money going out for such minimal work and I just want to see what other clients are doing . . . .

As to this, we have two comments.  First, it looks like Margulies might soon be getting her money's worth out of her attorney.  Second, who puts "sic" in a quoted e-mail?!?  And why put a "sic" after "tryng" and "i'm" while ignoring, e.g., all of the comma splices, not to mention the questionable choice of "who" over "whom" in "who I love"?  If you "sic" some things but not others, aren't you endorsing all mistakes that escaped your pedantry?

The really surprising thing about all this is that there is no written contract.  D/F refers to an “oral management agreement” that incorporated the “industry custom” of a 10% fee to D/F.  So, while we do not claim any expertise in California law, general contracts principles suggest that if this case proceeds, there will need to be factual determinations as to whether there is indeed such a custom that continues after the termination of the relationship and whether Margulies knew or should have known of it. 

In addition, there would seem to be a Statute of Frauds issue here, since on D/F's view, the contract may not be performable within a year if, for example, Margulies entered into multi-year agreements with either CBS or L'Oreal.

Stay tuned to see how Margulies answers.

[Christina Phillips & JT]

Celebrity Contracts, In the News, Television | Permalink

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