A lawsuit over whether Happy Days castmembers were cheated out of money from merchandising could be headed to trial.
On Tuesday, a judge denied CBS' summary judgment motion, potentially clearing the path for a showdown next month between the actors and the show's distributor in a Los Angeles courtroom.
The lawsuit was filed last year after 83-year-old Marion Ross, who played Marion Cunningham on the long-running sitcom, received a call from a friend playing slots at a casino. The friend informed Ross of a crazy Happy Days slot machine: Roll five Marion Rosses and win the jackpot.
That led to discussions among the actors, and according to the complaint, CBS was contacted to see if any money was owed for merchandising. They allegedly were told no.
The show's actors, including Ross, Anson Williams, Don Most, Erin Moran and the wife of the late Tom Bosley (but not Henry Winkler or Ron Howard), then filed a $10 million lawsuit alleging breach of contract. “Happy Days epitomizes what is best in America,” says the lawsuit, which added that the actions by CBS and Paramount “epitomize what is worst in corporate America, exemplifying the worst business practices.”
Jon Pfeiffer, the attorney for the plaintiffs, says the actors hadn't received any royalty payments since the early 1980s.
The actors suffered a big setback in October, when a judge threw out a fraud claim, which meant the plaintiffs couldn't receive punitive damages. The ruling wiped out millions of dollars in potential compensation.
Meanwhile, Pfeiffer says that after the lawsuit was filed, CBS issued checks to the actors for the previous five years, which included a merchandise royalty share for those slot machines. Pfeiffer adds that the checks haven't yet been cashed.
The parties are still fighting over money for images of the actors on home video releases. CBS contended that DVDs weren't considered merchandise under the terms of the contract and brought a summary judgment motion.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White denied the motion, ruling that "defendants have not met their initial burden of showing that plaintiffs are not entitled to merchandising royalties for the use of their likeness on DVD sets sold to consumers."
White said the plaintiffs would still need to prove the merits of their claims at a trial scheduled for July 17.
Of course, before the dispute gets to trial, it could be settled.
According to Pfeiffer, "CBS has indicated a willingness to talk, and we're certainly open to that."
CBS declined comment.
Happy Days ran on ABC from 1974 to 1984. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and Paramount Television, which later became CBS Television Distribution.