A judge on Friday dealt a blow to Zooey Deschanel, stating in a tentative ruling that she — and not her agency and former manager — was primarily to blame for her not getting a film role in 2013.
Deschanel had sued her former manager, Sarah Jackson of Seven Summits Pictures & Management, alleging that the company breached its fiduciary duty by encouraging her to switch agencies from CAA to UTA. The suit came in response to a 2015 lawsuit that Jackson filed against Deschanel, seeking unpaid commissions on her “Hello Giggles” website.
In her counterclaim, Deschanel alleged that Jackson wanted her to dump CAA in order to punish the agency for not getting another CAA client to sign with Jackson. Deschanel also claimed that Jackson knew that CAA would be better for her career, and that she got no acting work during the period when she was with UTA.
In his tentative ruling, Judge Michael Raphael held that Deschanel herself was largely responsible for not getting acting work during the 2013 hiatus from her show, “New Girl.” In an email to Jackson in November 2012, Deschanel wrote that “I really just want to play a very interesting small character role in a movie.” But at the same time, she was scheduling concert dates for the hiatus.
In February 2013, she was offered the lead role in a film, but turned it down. “I’m worried I won’t have time to play a lead role this hiatus,” she wrote. “It’s just so busy this hiatus, unless they were on a 3 week shooting schedule or something.” According to another email, Deschanel was up for another role in the 2014 film “St. Vincent” but did not get the required approval of Harvey Weinstein.
“There is no evidence suggesting that any acting opportunity that would have suited Deschanel’s very narrow criteria… for the 2013 hiatus existed,” the judge wrote. “The record establishes that Deschanel limited her own availability and created a perception of same.”
The judge also took note of an email in which Deschanel expressed her own reasons for leaving CAA to her agent: “The issues I had prior to my working with you still remain. After seven years at CAA, I feel I need to see what else is out there.”
Deschanel contended that she was referring to a previous dispute that had been cleared up, but Raphael wrote that he did not believe her explanation.
“The Court must conclude that the ‘issues’ persisted and independently influenced Deschanel’s decision to leave CAA,” the judge wrote.
Deschanel also complained that Jackson barged into her dressing room while she was changing during her concert tour. The judge held that the issue was “so minimal as not to be actionable.”
Raphael heard arguments on the case on Friday. His tentative ruling, issued before the arguments, is expected to become final within the next few days.
That leaves the underlying commissions lawsuit, in which Jackson and her company contend that Deschanel cut off commission payments after ending their 17-year relationship in 2013.
Update, Feb. 15: The judge made the ruling final, granting Seven Summits motion for summary judgment.
The company’s attorney, Kenneth Freundlich issued this statement: “We are gratified that the Judge saw through Deschanel’s baseless allegations of fiduciary duty breaches and are looking forward to a March 27 jury trial on Seven Summits’ right to commission Deschanel for the projects Seven Summits worked on during the seventeen years she managed Ms. Deschanel including New Girl and Hello Giggles. Commissions which have been wrongfully withheld.”
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