Ventura v. Titan Sports, Inc.
65 F.3d 725 (8th Cir. 1995).
Ventura is the plaintiff. He won in trial court and Titan appealed.
- Whether the trial court errored by providing quantum meruit damages (unjust enrichment) for a contract made before agent negotiations.
- Whether the trial court errored by providing quantum meruit damages for a contract made by the agent.
- Finally, whether the trial court errored by accepting the plaintiff’s calculation of damages.
For the first issue:
- If the defendant was unjustly (unlawfully) enriched (benefited), then the plaintiff may have a claim against them.
- Fraud may be a reason to enforce restitutionary damages against the defendant.
The trial court did not error in any respect, affirmed.
Ventura was a professional wrestler. Titan was the main broadcaster of the wrestling show. Previously, Titan had entered into contracts with third-parties to help with creating merchandise related to the show. These products included action figures, videotapes of wrestlers, and the like.
Before Ventura had an agent, he orally contracted with Titan. These oral contracts included wrestling (until he got hurt), then for commentating. At no point was there any discussion about royalties.
After Ventura had an agent, they discussed the possibility of royalties. However, Titan told the agent that only featured wrestlers were awarded royalties under their policy. As such, the contract waived the right to royalties. Later during trial, it was discovered that Titan did not follow the purported policy.
Ventura then sued to obtain royalties for his work with Titan.
First, the court addresses whether Titan was benefited in ways that were outside of the scope of the agreement. Ultimately, the court says that Titan was benefited because Ventura’s presence created intellectual property from which Titan profited. Nothing in the contract talked about Ventura’s intellectual property rights so it is within the scope of the benefit element.
Second, the court discusses whether Titan’s benefit was unjust or unlawful. Up to this point, the Minnesota courts had not adopted a right to publicity. However, this federal circuit court predicts that Minnesota would adopt this right to publicity. In doing so, Ventura would have a cause of action against Titan for use of his name, image, and likeness without just compensation. Consequently, Titan was unjustly benefited. The result is that Ventura has a cause of action for restitutionary damages.
However, the dissent argues that Minnesota would have rejected a right to publicity in the state. Consequently, Ventura would have no cause of action to seek damages and his claim would fall short.
Because the use of fraud may be used to determine quantum meruit damages the court begins by addressing whether fraud occurred. Here, fraud did occur because Titan continued to represent that royalties were not available to the plaintiff. Because Titan did not follow the policy related to royalties for other personalities in a similar position as Ventura, any reliance on that representation would be thus induced by fraud.
Calculation of Damages
The calculation conducted by the plaintiff’s expert provided a reasonable range for what damages may be expected to look like for the period when Ventura worked for Titan. The formula applied followed:
- Calculate total sales representing Ventura
- Determine a range of reasonable royalty fees (3.5, 5, and 7.5)
Restitution – quantum meruit – is to take back what the defendant wrongfully obtained.
- “Based on failure of consideration, fraud, mistake, and situations where it would be morally wrong for one party to enrich himself at the expense of another.”
- “But it only lies where one party was unjustly enriched in the sense that the term ‘unjust‘ could mean illegality or unlawfully.”
Alternative means of quantifying restitutionary damages: (a) reasonable value of plaintiff’s services and (b) value of property: as justice requires.
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