A federal court judge has dismissed Warner Bros. and screenwriter John Logan from a suit claiming that the screenplay for “The Last Samurai” was lifted from the work of two scribes, Aaron Benay and Matthew Benay.
But U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez also ruled Tuesday that the Benays’ breach of implied-in-fact contract claim against producers Bedford Falls, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz could proceed,
The litigation — which has dragged on for years — is perhaps most notable for the sudden appearance last year of an anonymous letter with three attached e-mails, a document that was sent to both sides’ legal teams and which bolstered the Benays’ claims of the extent to which producers reviewed their script.
Warner Bros. sought to prove that the new stash of documents was a hoax, hiring an expert who concluded that handwriting found on the script pages and Zwick’s signature on a fax cover sheet were mechanically copied from documents produced during discovery. Among other things, the expert also found that three emails were erroneously stamped “Pacific Standard Time” instead of “Pacific Daylight Time.”
Gutierrez rejected an effort to sanction the Benays. ruling that Warner Bros. and other defendants “have made an insufficient showing of culpability on the part of Plaintiffs or their counsel to warrant sanctions.”
He did not elaborate on one of the more bizarre twists of the case: The Warner Bros. legal team, led by Dan Petrocelli, took DNA samples of the Benays for any trace that would connect them to the mysterious documents. Their attorney, John Marder, objected that his DNA also was collected without his knowledge when the Benays gave their samples.
“These were items supposedly offered by the defendants as snacks during a deposition, while harboring the secret intent of collecting my DNA illegally,” Marder wrote in a declaration to the court last month.
Gutierrez granted Warner Bros. and Logan’s motion for summary judgment because he concluded that the Benays had failed to show “privity,” or that the studio and screenwriter were not part of the implied-in-fact contract.
The federal court originally dismissed the case in 2008, but the Benays appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected their copyright infringement claim but said that their breach of implied-in-fact contract suit could proceed.