Havilland v. FX Networks LLC, Supreme Ct. Docket No. 18-453
Olivia de Havilland is a 102-year-old, two-time Academy Award winning best actress, who played Melanie Hamilton in the movie classic, “Gone with the Wind.” Of particular relevance here, she is also a woman who lives her life devoted to high moral and ethical standards.
FX Networks, LLC and Pacific 2.1 Entertainment Group, Inc. appropriated the literal name and identity of Olivia de Havilland, without consent or compensation, to be the narrator of a mini-series, “Feud: Bette and Joan,” devoted to the theme of women actors catfighting, using vulgar language, and backstabbing one another. FX, claiming artistic license, admits that many of the statements and vulgar language attributed to de Havilland were fabricated and knowingly untrue.
The California Court of Appeal reversed the trial judge’s denial of a Motion to Strike, and dismissed Miss de Havilland’s claims, based on a First Amendment defense for docudramas.
The Question for the Court is: Are reckless or knowing false statements about a living public figure, published in docudrama format, entitled to absolute First Amendment protection from claims based on the victim’s statutory and common law causes of action for defamation and right of publicity, so as to justify dismissal at the pleading stage?