Olivia de Havilland’s ‘Feud’ Lawsuit Against FX Thrown Out by Appeals Court

Court cites First Amendment in decision

Last Updated: March 26, 2018 @ 4:55 PM

Olivia de Havilland’s feud with FX appears to be over, at least for now.

An appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit filed by “Gone With the Wind” actress de Havilland that she filed over her portrayal in the FX series “Feud.”

De Havilland sued FX and “Feud” producer Ryan Murphy in July, on the eve of her 101st birthday, alleging that her identity was used without her authorization in the FX series, and that the actress, who was portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the miniseries, was placed in a false light.

The first installment of the anthology series, which premiered earlier this year, centered on the rivalry between Bette Davis (portrayed by Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange).

“Miss de Havilland was not asked by FX for permission to use her name and identity and was not compensated for such use,” de Havilland’s attorneys said in a statement. “Further, the FX series puts words in the mouth of Miss de Havilland which are inaccurate and contrary to the reputation she has built over an 80-year professional life, specifically refusing to engage in gossip mongering about other actors in order to generate media attention for herself.”

Papers filed Monday in the 2nd District Court of Appeal reversing a previous court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to strike cited the First Amendment.

“The trial court’s ruling leaves authors, filmmakers, playwrights, and television producers in a Catch-22. If they portray a real person in an expressive work accurately and realistically without paying that person, they face a right of publicity lawsuit. If they portray a real person in an expressive work in a fanciful, imaginative — even fictitious and therefore ‘false’ — way, they face a false light lawsuit if the person portrayed does not like the portrayal,” the court papers read.

“The order denying the motion to strike is reversed. The trial court is directed to enter a new and different order granting the motion and awarding defendants their attorney fees and costs.”

Suzelle Smith, de Havilland’s attorney, called Monday’s opinion “breathtaking in its failure.”

“The Opinion is breathtaking in its failure to follow established precedent from both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It ignores the rule of law that the Justices cannot weigh the evidence and must credit all plaintiff’s evidence,” Smith said. “The Court of Appeal, unlike the trial Court, has taken on itself the role of both Judge and jury, denying Miss de Havilland her Constitutional rights to have a jury decide her claims to protect the property rights in her name or to defend her reputation against knowing falsehoods.”

Smith added that Monday’s order “is an entirely pro-industry decision.”

“This case appears to be destined for a higher court, and we will be preparing the appropriate petition for such review,” Smith continued.

TheWrap has also reached out to FX for comment.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.