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Disney Nailed As ‘Home Improvement’ Profit-Sharing Suit Revived By Court

Deadline logo Deadline 3/22/2017 Dominic Patten
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Like a home improvement that you mistakenly thought was completed years ago, Disney saw some legal walls fall today after a California appeals court gave a Home Improvement profit-sharing lawsuit a brand new hammer.

“The trial court accordingly erred in granting summary adjudication in favor of Disney,” 2nd District Appeals Court Justice Laurie Zelon wrote with the agreement of two other judges, setting the stage for a new round of action over the profits from the Tim Allen-starring 1990s sitcom and landing a blow for ABC’s parent company. “The judgment is reversed,” the court added (read the ruling here), flipping Judge William Highberger’s ruling from early 2015.

This comes more than four years after producers Matt Williams, Carmen Finestra, David McFadzean and their respective production companies first claimed in court that Disney ripped them off over Home Improvement syndication cash and more for a series that has made more than $1.5 billion for the House of Mouse. It also comes more than two years after that LA Superior Court judge tossed the matter because the plaintiff’s claims to 75% of the series’ net and a full accounting were time-barred.

Think again, says Zelon in the ruling made public Wednesday.

“Based on the totality of evidence presented about Disney’s alleged conduct, including the oral tolling agreements, the prior failure to enforce the incontestability clause, and the chronic delays in the audit process, we conclude that there are triable issues of material fact as to whether Disney may be estopped from asserting the contractual limitations period as a defense to the producers’ claims,” she said.

All of which means the nails are out of the coffin in the case, and the producers are going back to legal work, so to speak. Disney did not respond to request for comment on the appeals court decision. “We are pleased with the Court’s decision,” said Marcia Harris at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, which filed the original 2013 suit for the producers as well as another lawsuit that came out of a separate audit.

O’Melveny & Myers’ Daniel Petrocelli represents the Disney in this matter. Marcia Harris, Mark Passin and Roman Silberfield at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi are handling things for Williams, Finestra, and McFadzean, though attorneys at Greines, Martin, Stein & Richland LLP were counsel with the appeal.

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