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Friday, November 03, 2006
CBS Mostly Loses Case Against Former Broadcaster Brent Jones
Yesterday, Judge Chin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an opinion dismissing the bulk of the CBS network’s claims against former football commentator and one-time 49er tight end Brent Jones. Jones walked away from CBS in the middle of week four of the 2005 NFL season, purportedly to spend more time with his family. The problem, in CBS’s eyes, was that Jones had been paid on a weekly basis between January and October, 2005 (based on an annual salary of $200,000). Yet at the time he quit, Jones had only called three games that season (out of 17). CBS sued to recover 14/17 of the money it had paid Jones.
In his opinion in CBS Broadcasting Inc. v. Jones, 2006 WL 3095916 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 2, 2006), Judge Chin largely dismissed CBS’s breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims against Jones. The judge explained:
The Agreement does not reference the number of football games Jones was expected to call each year, nor does it contain a provision for the return of any payment to CBS in the event Jones terminated the Agreement prematurely. Rather, paragraph 19 of the Agreement provides in relevant part that: "If Contractor or Artist at any time materially breaches any provision of this Agreement ... CBS may ... reduce Contractor's compensation pro rata, and/or CBS may, by so notifying Contractor during or within a reasonable time after such period, terminate this Agreement." "[P]ro rata" is not defined.Thus, some ambiguity:
Here, the Agreement is not wholly without ambiguity. It provides that in the event that Contractor or Artist breaches, CBS may "reduce Contractor's compensation pro rata," but it does not define "pro rata." Nonetheless, as between the two competing interpretations before the Court, I conclude that a reasonably intelligent and objective person could give the Agreement only one interpretation--that "pro rata" means a proportion based not on the number of games called out of seventeen, but rather, on the number of weeks out of the year the Agreement was in effect.The court also dismissed CBS’s unjust enrichment claims, since under New York law there can be no claim in quasi-contract where a valid contract sets forth the parties’ rights.
The court did, however, preserve one small piece of CBS’s claim:
The amended complaint alleges that Jones improperly charged certain personal expenses to CBS, through his corporate credit card and otherwise. If any personal expenditures charged to CBS remain unpaid, Jones shall reimburse CBS. The Court is hopeful that the parties can resolve this issue themselves.