Key Claim Kicked Straight Outta Court

Ex-N.W.A manager Jerry Heller’s $110 million defamation lawsuit against NBC Universal over the film “Straight Outta Compton” survived a dismissal motion March 28, but lost a key component in the final ruling published three days later.
Former agent and Ruthless Records founder Jerry Heller (R) is portrayed in “Straight Outta Compton” by actor Paul Giamatti. The movie, about the rise of N.W.A. – which Heller guided to stardom – was reportedly made without his input.

While a federal judge said he believed the case shouldn’t go forward, he gave Heller and his legal team until April 25 to file a second amended complaint against the studio, director F. Gary Gray, Legendary Pictures Funding, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and others.

But in a review of Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald’s final order issued March 30, the judge cited the First Amendment in ruling that Heller can’t proceed with a misappropriation of likeness claim based on an unflattering portrayal of him by actor Paul Giamatti. Other key claims in the motion for dismissal that were granted, but with leave to amend, include the defamation, breach of a non-disparagement clause of a settlement agreement in a different case, and breach of contract.

In those claims, Heller will have to include in the amended complaint exact statements made in the film that he believes are defamatory and plead that the defendants made the statements with actual malice. He’ll also have to identify specific disparaging statements made in the film, and show how an alleged oral contract between the parties isn’t void under the Copyright Act. Among Heller’s other claims that were dismissed, the judge ruled his team “patently failed to make a sufficient showing with respect to his claims for interference with a prospective economic advantage,” according to court documents.