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Friday, March 14, 2008

My Favorite Case That is Not in the Casebooks: April Enterprises v. KTTV

WinchellHere is a gem of a case that could be of use to you in Contracts, Torts, or Entertainment Law. I would put it in a casebook if I were authoring one. It is April Enterprises, Inc. v. KTTV, 147 Cal. App. 3d 805 (1983).

Paul Winchell, a ventriloquist who is perhaps best known as the voice of Tigger the Tiger, did a children’s television show in the 1960s called “Winchell-Mahoney Time.” It featured puppets such as Knucklehead Smiff, among others.

Winchell, through his company April Enterprises, contracted with television station KTTV to produce the shows. The contract contained provisions for sharing profits in the event the old shows entered syndication.

In the years following the live production and broadcast of the show, Winchell worked to secure a syndication deal. But KTTV erased the tapes. Videotape being re-usable, the station simply deleted the entire library of “Winchell-Mahoney Time.”

Winchell sued and appealed on two grounds: breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of fiduciary duty. The opinion reveals a court that is sympathetic to Winchell, and, one guesses, melancholy about the loss of a beloved relic of childhood. Stretching the law in several directions, the court upholds both causes of action. In particular, the court’s finding of a joint venture to serve as the basis for fiduciary duty is striking. The panel held that Winchell’s expended labor, even without financial investment, counted as “sharing in losses” sufficient for the formation of a joint venture. This holding of April plagues California corporate defense attorneys (and delights plaintiffs) to this very day.

Please feel free to distribute my edit of the opinion to your students and use it in your class. But if you do, will you drop me a line to let me know it was useful?

A post-script: Winchell won a $17.8-million jury verdict on remand.

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on March 14, 2008 at 07:43 AM in Teaching Law, Torts | Permalink


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As a practicing lawyer, I am not sure about your edit. In California, this case is widely known--for its statute of limitations holding. Which happens to be the one section you delete.

Posted by: anon | Mar 14, 2008 2:15:57 PM

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