« Should We Scrap the Third Year of Law School? | Main | form and style »

Monday, September 19, 2005

ABC Breaches Makeover Contract

From today's NY Daily news:

LOS ANGELES - The producers of "Extreme Makeover" promised Deleese Williams "a Cinderella-like" fix for a deformed jaw, crooked teeth, droopy eyes and tiny boobs that would "transform her life and destiny."

But when the ABC reality show dumped the Texas mom the night before the life-changing plastic surgeries, it shattered her family's dream and triggered her sister Kellie McGee's suicide, says a bombshell lawsuit filed in L.A. Superior Court.

The suit seeks unspecified money damages for breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other offenses.

As part of the premakeover hype, producers coaxed McGee and other family members to trash Williams' looks on videotape, the suit alleges. When they suddenly pulled the plug on the project, and the promised "Hollywood smile like Cindy Crawford," a guilt-ridden McGee fell apart.

"Kellie could not live with the fact that she had said horrible things that hurt her sister. She fell to pieces. Four months later, she ended her life with an overdose of pills, alcohol and cocaine," said Wesley Cordova, a lawyer for Williams.

. . .

"Deleese is so hurt and humiliated, she won't leave the house now. She grocery shops at midnight," Cordova says.

ABC declined to comment on the allegations.

The show announcing Williams' selection for a mega makeover had already aired on Jan. 7, 2004, when the producers abruptly dropped her because the dental surgeon told them her recovery time would be longer than expected, Cordova said.

Williams was alone in a Los Angeles hotel room reading her pre-op instructions when a producer showed up and dashed her dream of a new life with a "pretty" face, the suit alleges.

"You will not be getting an extreme makeover after all. . . . Nothing. It doesn't fit in our time frame. You will have to go back to Texas tomorrow," the suit alleges she was coldly told.

Williams broke down sobbing: "How can I go back as ugly as I left? I was supposed to come home pretty," the suit says.

I don't know near enough to comment on the merits of the lawsuit (although the damages for breach would seem to be a nice application of the hairy hand doctrine.)   But the message of the article (for those who need reminding): don't believe producers bearing promises of beauty.

 

Posted by Dave Hoffman on September 19, 2005 at 02:40 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c6a7953ef00d83423e62653ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference ABC Breaches Makeover Contract:

» 'Twas The Night Before Zeitgeist from Between Lawyers
'Twas the night before Zeitgeist, when all through the fog, Not a creature was stirring, not even a blawg. The shingles were hung on the Web with such care, In hope that Saint BusDev soon would be there. The children... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 1, 2005 7:54:43 PM

» 'Twas The Night Before Zeitgeist from Between Lawyers
'Twas the night before Zeitgeist, when all through the fog, Not a creature was stirring, not even a blawg. The shingles were hung on the Web with such care, In hope that Saint BusDev soon would be there. The children... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 1, 2005 8:44:31 PM

» 'Twas The Night Before Zeitgeist from Between Lawyers
'Twas the night before Zeitgeist, when all through the fog, Not a creature was stirring, not even a blawg. The shingles were hung on the Web with such care, In hope that Saint BusDev soon would be there. The children... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 3, 2005 11:44:03 AM

Comments

One has to assume that the show's lawyers wrote an ironclad contract that explicitly permits the producers to dump any contestent at any time for any reason with no notice and no liability. The interesting issue will be how the plaintiff tries to avoid the presumably fatal contract language.

Posted by: anonym | Sep 19, 2005 3:04:37 PM

Well, intentional infliction sounds in tort, for one.

I notice this case also involves a McGee, just like the Hairy Hand case (though there McGee was the doctor). When I taught Hawkins v. McGee (a.k.a. "The Hairy Hand"), by the way, I had a Hawkins and a McGee in the class. I also had a "Hart," who I couldn't resist calling on.


Posted by: Ethan Leib | Sep 19, 2005 3:29:41 PM

I thought "intentional infliction" required intent to inflict...

Dropping a candidate who is medically inappropriate for surgery doesn’t strike me as a good evidence of such intent. Neither does anything else mentioned in this article.

Posted by: Kate Litvak | Sep 19, 2005 3:56:56 PM

Yes Ethan, but were you wearing jeans?

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Sep 19, 2005 3:57:02 PM

Kate: I wasn't commenting on the merits; we have virtually no information to make any substantive judgments. I was simply explaining why there might be a cause of action even if the contract specified, as "anonym" hypothesized, that there was "fatal contract language" precluding a breach of contract suit. So quick to bite.

Hillel: No jeans yet. Maybe during the rainy season.

Posted by: Ethan Leib | Sep 19, 2005 4:09:55 PM

Dave,

You're the contracts prof -- is there an estoppel claim here?

On the tort side, is there potentially an interference with family and/or business relations argument to be made? (On the flip side, interference with family relations usually means seducing someone's wife).

Posted by: Kaimi | Sep 19, 2005 4:32:56 PM

I'm with Ethan on being hesitant to speculate too much in the absence of facts. Whether a PE claim can exist in the face of (hypothetical) contrary contract language would seem questionable (justified reliance?) but, again, who knows what was said and what was signed.

I did a bit of google searching on the topic, and it turns out that extreme makeover shows are sued with regularity by folks who were either not made-over to their satisfaction or not made-over at all. No doubt ABC's lawyers are well aware of this propensity and have drafted language they hope will deal with it. Needless to say, the bargaining that accompanies these fairy-tale offers seem unlikely to be extended. If my fairy godfather, for example, stopped by to offer me that HLR placement, I doubt I'd respond: "If this goes bad, I want our dispute to be litigated under AAA rules, and I want a de novo standard of review in federal court."

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | Sep 19, 2005 5:24:03 PM

In response to Ethan's response to my original comment, I don't think that the fact that intentional infliction of emotional distress sounds in tort goes very far here. If the contract explicitly permits the producers to drop the contestant for any reason at any time (which I am assuming), then the mere fact of doing what a contract permits in a manner that it permits is not likely to constitute a tort. The plaintiff would have to allege some extra conduct not contemplated by the contract -- such as an intent to injure (as Kate noted) -- which seems implausible. I suppose that if ABC had televised the plaintiff's reaction to her dismissal -- in a 'ha ha you are still ugly' slant -- then she might have a claim for intentional misconduct. Otherwise, she seems out of luck absent some defect in the bargaining that led to the contract language that I am assuming to be fatal to her claim. Of course, if the contract is even remotely ambiguous, then all bets are off.

Posted by: anonym | Sep 19, 2005 9:29:44 PM

If I had to bet, the cause of action will be NIED, brought by the estate of the deceased sister. (I believe that in CA, NIED is allowed if there are physical injuries.) No doubt she was on camera and known by the TV show producers. She probably signed a waiver allowing her likeness on camera, but that's probably it. The cause of action won't prevail, but it may settle, and of course there will be an article in People magazine, with the would-be reality star holding a framed photograph of her sister.
The stupidest thing about it is that some young producer decided to send the woman back without giving her the complimentary dental surgery, which may have cost, let's say, $20k. Instead, the woman will know tell her tragic story to the world, potentially causing this show to be the next yanked show (remember Jenny Jones?).

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Sep 20, 2005 10:46:57 AM

Post a comment