Baer v. Chase

In Baer v. Chase, 2004 WL 350050 (3rd Cir. 2004), which was decided on December 21, 2004, the Third Circuit rejected claims brought by a plaintiff who believed himself to have had a role in the creation and development of the popular HBO show “The Sopranos.” The plaintiff brought an action against the creator of The Sopranos alleging breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, unfair competition, and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage relating to the creator’s alleged refusal to pay the Plaintiff for his role in the creation and development of the popular show.

The plaintiff was introduced to the creator of The Sopranos through a mutual friend when the plaintiff, who was an attorney, showed interest in writing, directing, and producing. At a meeting between the plaintiff and the creator in 1995, the plaintiff alleged that he pitched the idea of “a film or television series about the New Jersey mafia.” In late 1995, the creator visited New Jersey for “research visit” where the plaintiff arranged meetings for the creator with detectives in northern New Jersey who provided the creator with information, material and personal stories about their experience with organized crime. One of the detectives also served as a tour guide and drove the creator to various locations in northern New Jersey. All the ideas and locations that the plaintiff allegedly contributed existed in the public record. Also in late 1995, Plaintiff reviewed a copy of a draft of The Sopranos screenplay and made various comments. Aside from a letter from the plaintiff to the creator in 1997, the parties’ relationship ended in 1995.

According to the plaintiff, the creator of the series orally agreed on three separate occasions that if the show became a success, he would “take care of” plaintiff and “remunerate plaintiff in a manner commensurate with the true value of his services.” The alleged oral agreements did not include any fixed term of duration or price.

In May of 2002, the plaintiff brought an action against the creator in Federal Court. The creator thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) alleging that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact and that he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The lower court granted the creator’s motion finding that 1) plaintiffs contract claims were unenforceable due to vagueness, uncertainty, and lack of essential terms in the contract; 2) the statute of limitations barred the quasi contract claim; and 3) the misappropriation tort claim was without merit due to lack of novelty. The plaintiff appealed and the Third Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Third Circuit held that because the lower court disregarded the plaintiff’s certification, which, if included may have precluded a grant of summary judgment on the statute of limitations issue, the case was remanded to the lower court for further proceedings solely on that claim.