Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago affirms KWIKA victory in Michael Keaton lawsuit

For the past two years, Michael Kump and Jeremiah Reynolds have represented Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Michael Keaton in a lawsuit filed against him in federal court in Chicago in connection with the motion picture The Merry Gentleman. Keaton starred in and made his directorial debut in the independent film which garnered widespread praise from critics when it premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and when it was released in May 2009.  Nevertheless, in April 2013, one of the investors in the film filed a breach of contract action against Keaton, alleging that Keaton’s breaches of his Directing Agreement caused the investor to lose his investment.  After conducting discovery for several months, Mike and Jeremiah filed a motion for summary judgment which established that Keaton’s performance as director did not cause the film to underperform at the box office.

On December 22, 2014, United States District Judge Gary Feinerman in Chicago agreed and granted KWIKA’s motion in an 18-page published opinion. The District Court ruled that plaintiff failed to show that a reasonable jury could find a causal connection between Keaton’s alleged breaches and plaintiff’s claimed monetary losses. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

On June 4, 2015, Mike argued the appeal to the three-Judge panel consisting of Seventh Circuit Judges William J. Bauer, Ilana Rovner and David F. Hamilton. On August 28, 2015, the appellate panel issued its unanimous opinion affirming summary judgment for Keaton and dismissing the action against Keaton. In his written opinion, Circuit Judge Hamilton asked: “Who can say why a critically praised movie did not make money?”  Hamilton wrote: “no reasonable trier of fact could find that Merry Gentleman lost its entire investment of $5.5 million because Keaton failed to submit his first cut on time or failed to publicize the movie better. Merry Gentleman entered the directing contract to have Keaton deliver a finished movie, and he delivered one that showed well at Sundance and won some critical praise. The breaches by Keaton that Merry Gentleman alleges cannot reasonably be said to have rendered the investment completely worthless.”

Both The Hollywood Reporter and the National Law Journal, among others, wrote about KWIKA’s victory. Mike told the National Law Journal: “We’re very pleased with this victory. Michael directed a film which received critical praise at both the Sundance Film Festival and in the national media when released, and he put his heart and soul into making this movie. We’re glad this is finally over.”