Judge throws out fired "Storage Wars" star's unfair business practices claim, asserting that the show is protected free speech
A&E and "Storage Wars" have taken the first round in its ongoing legal tangle with its former star Dave Hester, who claimed in a lawsuit that the reality show is staged.
In a ruling Tuesday, Judge Michael Johnson of Los Angeles Superior Court sided with the network on a couple of points, throwing out the Unfair Business Practices of Hester's complaint on First Amendment grounds.
Johnson also sided with A&E in ruling that an injunction against the series would violate the network's First Amendment rights.
Hester (pictured) filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court in December, claiming that he had been fired for complaining that the show had been rigged. Specifically, Hester alleges, the show's producers plant valuable items in storage lockers, which competitors then bid on, supposedly without knowing what's inside them.
In response, A&E filed an anti-SLAAP motion to strike stating that the show enjoys First Amendment protections.
Hester's legal team issued a response, claiming that those protections don't apply in this case, claiming that A&E was violating the Communications Act of 1934, which states that a person shall not "supply any contestant in a purportedly bona fide contest of intellectual knowledge or intellectual skill any special and secret assistance whereby the outcome of such contest will be in whole or in part prearranged or predetermined."
As such, Hester's legal team argued, the network was engaging in illegal activity not protected by the First Amendment.
Hester also argued that a press release issued by A&E refuting the staging claims is commercial speech which would also not be protected.
However, in his ruling Tuesday, Johnson offered a differing opinion.
"This argument is not persuasive," Johnson ruled.
With regard to the claim that A&E and co-defendant Original Productions violated the Communications Act, Johnson found that Hester did not provide "any citation to a particular policy within the Act."
Johnson also found, "It is well settled that television broadcast involves free speech, as well as production activities that advance or assist in the creation of a television program."
“We are pleased that Judge Johnson rejected Mr. Hester’s baseless unfair business practices claim," one of A&E's attorneys, Kelli Sager of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, told TheWrap in a statement.
Other claims of Hester's, including breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, remain to be explored.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.
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