Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wednesday's Weird But True Legal Cases - Vol LII

After a brief hiatus, Wednesday's Weird (but true) legal case review returns with a look at the Appellate Division's decision in the lawsuit over Dan Rather's employment with CBS.

In Rather v. CBS Corp, both Rather and CBS appealed decisions from the Supreme Court, New York County which dismissed some of Rather's claims against CBS, but permitted others to go forward. The underlying controversy arose in relation to a September 8, 2004 broadcast that Rather narrated on the CBS 60 Minutes II television program about then President George W. Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. As explained by the court:

Rather alleges that CBS disavowed the broadcast after it was attacked by Bush supporters, and fraudulently induced him to apologize personally for the broadcast on national television as well as to remain silent as to his belief that the broadcast was true. Rather alleges that, following President Bush's re-election, CBS informed him that he would be removed as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Rather claims that although his employment agreement required that, in the event he was removed as anchor, CBS would make him a regular correspondent on 60 Minutes or immediately pay all amounts due under the agreement and release him to work elsewhere, CBS kept him on the payroll while denying him the opportunity to cover important news stories until May 2006 when it terminated his contract, effective June 2006.
In decisions dated April 11, 2008 and September 25, 2008, the Supreme Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss Rather's claims for fraud, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and tortious interference with contract, and denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the claims for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.

In relation to the lower court's refusal to dismiss the breach of contract claim, the Appellate Division stated:

At the outset, we find that Supreme Court erred in declining to dismiss Rather's breach of contract claim against CBS. Rather alleges that he delivered his last broadcast as anchor of the CBS Evening News on March 9, 2005, and that, since he was only nominally assigned to 60 Minutes II and then 60 Minutes, he should have received the remainder of his compensation under the agreement in March 2005. Rather claims that, in effect, CBS "warehoused" him, and that, when he was finally terminated and paid in June 2006, CBS did not compensate him for the 15 months "when he could have worked elsewhere." This claim attempts to gloss over the fact that Rather continued to be compensated at his normal CBS salary of approximately $6 million a year until June 2006 when the compensation was accelerated upon termination, consistent with his contract.
The appellate court also rejected the claim for lost business opportunities, stating:

Rather's claim for lost business opportunities due to CBS's failure to release him to seek other employment is insufficiently supported. Since, according to Rather's own allegations, an immediate result of the September 8, 2004 broadcast was criticism that he was biased against Bush, it would be speculative to conclude that any action taken by CBS would have alone substantially affected his market value at that time. Rather's claim for damages for loss of reputation arising from the alleged breach of contract is not actionable.

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