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Yari v. Producers Guild of America, Inc., et al.

Plaintiff Bob Yari was a producer of the movie Crash, but did not receive an Academy Award when the movie won the Best Picture award in 2006 because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Producers Guild of America had determined that he was not a producer for purposes of the award. Yari appealed the decision to the Academy and the Guild without success and then filed suit in state court claiming that the decision by the Academy and the Guild should be subject to judicial review. The trial court disagreed and entered judgment in favor of the defendants following the defendants’ demurrer and the appeals court affirmed.

The court noted that the common-law right of fair procedure has been used to subject the decisions of private organizations to judicial review only when such decisions deny or limit an individual’s ability to work (for example, exclusion from membership in a labor union) or involve quasi-public institutions which operate in the public interest (for example, medical organizations that conduct disciplinary proceedings against members). However, in this case, the appellate court found that the defendant’s decision about Best Picture producer credit did not have the power to deprive Yari of the ability to practice his trade. This holding was based in part on allegations in the complaint regarding Yari’s own career including the statement that he “has been and continues to be engaged in the profession of motion picture producing.” The appellate court also found that the Academy Awards do not act as a “certification” for making movies because the awards do not determine who can work. Rejecting the notion that the defendants were “quasi-public entities,” the court stated that while the public is interested in the motion picture industry, “[t]hat does not mean that industry-related organizations like the defendants operate in the public interest.”

The court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the organizations had breached a contract by asking him to complete an eligibility application and then not following their own rules and awarding him the Best Picture award, or that the organizations breached a fiduciary duty owed to him. The court found that “Yari’s application for an award did not create a contract, or a promise on which reliance was reasonable.”