WWE: The 5 Most Interesting Excerpts from WWE-Related Lawsuit Filings & Case Law
The Internet is a wonderful place. Thanks to sites like Google Scholar, Justia, The Public Library of Law, The Wrestling Perspective Legal Project, and others, a variety of lawsuits, legal opinions and other legal filings are now easily accessible online. Using various keywords, it's easy to find filings from various famous cases involving WWE or the pro wrestling business in general.
Pro wrestling being pro wrestling and WWE being WWE, it's not surprising that many of these texts feature interesting bits of trivia, bizarre or ridiculous accusations and claims, etc. Making sure to avoid anything heavy on legalese, here are a few of my favorites involving WWE and their former main competitor WCW, which they purchased in 2001.
No. 5: Sid Vicious Sums Up His Wrestling Acumen, Proves John Laurinaitis Is Dumb
At the WCW Sin pay-per-view event in January 2001, Sid Vicious (Sid Eudy, also known as Sid Justice and Sycho Sid in WWE) broke his leg in gruesome fashion. Normally a power wrestler who occasionally showed off his agility with simple moves like kip-ups, he tried a jumping big boot off the second rope and all of his weight came down on his support leg, snapping it.
The injury itself happened off-camera during the actual broadcast, where viewers only saw Sid lying in the ring with his leg at a disgusting angle. The next night on Monday Nitro on TNT, WCW made the somewhat controversial call to air the injury footage from various angles.
WCW's assets were sold to WWE two months later after a deal with an Eric Bischoff-led group that had been announced around the time of Sin fell through when TBS & TNT canceled WCW's television programming. Eudy's contract was not one of the assets WWE bought, as various top WCW wrestlers were technically contracted to other divisions of Time Warner in what was believed to be a creative bookkeeping move.
Over the next few months, his pay was reduced by the surviving Universal Wrestling Corporation. This was a standard move in WCW if a wrestler couldn't work (it happened most infamously to Bret Hart), but obviously he couldn't work anyway once the company was sold and WWE didn't try to buy out his contract. He was fired in June.
Sid sued the UWC, its parent companies, and late-period WCW agent/current WWE Executive Vice President of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis on claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, tortuous interference with contractual relations, attorney fees, and unjust enrichment. He initially lost a summary judgment on all but the last claim, and he appealed in 2005.
After an explanation of how Eudy felt he was entitled to his full pay because he was coerced into executing the move that he injured himself on, the details of his claim are explained:
"Eudy testified on deposition that he told Laurinaitis, the WCW employee who blocked the moves for the January 14, 2001 event, that he did not want to perform the final move, in which he was to jump from the second rope and land on his opponent. He testified that he said he was 'just not a rope guy,' being a big man. He was concerned about getting his timing right so he did not kick his opponent in the face, having just returned to the ring after shoulder surgery the year before.
But, Eudy said, Laurinaitis kept telling him he needed to do the move, eventually handed him a written script, and told Eudy that if he took the move out, Laurinaitis would have to redraft the script. Then Eudy admitted that he agreed to perform the move, thinking he needed to prove himself to the company's new owners because he had been unable to work for some time due to previous injuries.
Eudy argues that the actions of WCW made it impossible for him to perform his side of the contract, and therefore he was entitled to all of his compensation..."
Sid was obviously right to be apprehensive: He'd never done anything like that before, so it was a bad idea, and it had disastrous results. I have no idea why Laurinaitis thought it was a good idea, but it was so far outside of Sid's wheelhouse that it is one of many things that can be used to impugn his abilities as a pro wrestling executive.
Eudy's claim of unjust enrichment (over WCW benefiting from the injury footage and a disability insurance policy they took out on him) was dismissed because WCW had full rights to the footage and the insurance policy reimbursed them for his pay while he was unable to wrestle for them. The court upheld the previous dismissals as well, and that was the end of the case.
No. 4: Sable Is Outraged by Big Nipple Contests, Among Other Things
In 1999, Sable (Rena Lesnar, then Rena Mero) abruptly left WWE while she was one of the biggest stars in the wrestling business. She quickly filed a $100 million lawsuit alleging sexual harassment among other things.
Some of the claims were ridiculous, others weren't surprising by wrestling standards, and some were just interesting reading. The most infamous passage was probably this one:
"...Mrs. Mero bitterly complained about her concerns and the humiliation that she was constantly facing, which was not only interfering with her well-being, but with her safety and state of mind. For example, men would routinely walk into the women's dressing room as if by accident; men would cut holes in the walls to watch the women dressing; extras were hired as WWF regulars to expose their breasts; big nipple contests were engaged in; men regularly bragged about their sexual encounters without regard to the women present; WWF produced catalogues and tee-shirts depicting Mrs. Mero In a degrading fashion offering sexual favors; Mrs. Mero was requested to display affection to women to promote a "lesbian angle"; Mrs. Mero was asked to have her gown ripped off repeatedly (notwithstanding promises to the contrary), and Plaintiff was asked to expose her breasts by 'mistake' on national television during a wrestling contest."
Much of the discussion of the suit online centered around exactly what a "big nipple contest" was and why it was so awful.
The suit was settled two months after it was filed. The terms were confidential but it's believed Rena didn't get much, if anything.
In a huge surprise, she returned to WWE as part of the Smackdown brand in April 2003. She quickly became Vince McMahon's on-screen mistress while feuding with his daughter Stephanie.
Wrestling is weird.
She left WWE again on better terms in August 2004 to spend more time with her family, which now included boyfriend Brock Lesnar, who had left WWE a few months earlier. He eventually sued WWE himself, but that's another matter for another day.
No. 3: WWE Exposes the Business to Avoid Taxes
To avoid various fees, WWE worked desperately for years to get pro wrestling out from under the control of various state athletic commissions. New Jersey was the most frustrating, as they taxed proceeds brought in from any kind of broadcast of sporting events in the state.
According to the filing, "This media rights tax is imposed on a declining basis, 5% on the first $50,000, 3% on the next $100,000, 2% on the next $100,000 and 1% on amounts in excess of $250,000, with a cap of $100,000 in tax."
With WWE not being a competitive sport, they went for broke and outright admitted it in 1989 to try to get the tax removed so they could profit more from TV tapings and pay-per-view events there. Here's how it was described in a 1990 filing:
"B. Titan Sports, Inc. and Professional Wrestling.
Titan is a Delaware corporation headquartered in Connecticut and authorized to do business in New Jersey. Titan, known popularly as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), is engaged in the creation, production and performance of professional wrestling exhibitions throughout the world.
Titan has submitted affidavits of Linda McMahon, its executive vice president, and Gerald Morton, an expert on modern professional wrestling. These affidavits state that the struggle between the wrestlers is actually simulated, and that there is no real competition to win.
Also according to the affidavits, the wrestlers play distinct characters or personas and act out moral sagas in a form of drama that includes 'plots, subplots, characterization, theme improvisation, spectacle, acrobatic expression, critical expression, moral expression and political expression.' The board has not submitted any certification to the contrary."
When the McMahons admitted that wrestling wasn't a legitimate competitive sport, it was a pretty big news story. It got a decent amount of time on ABC's Nightline, where Captain Lou Albano proceeded to explain that while the WWF was saying they fixed matches, he didn't believe that it was true of the NWA or AWA.
The tax wasn't lifted until 1997 under Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. WWE presented her with a replica belt to thank her and ran a memorable Summerslam pay-per-view that year at what is now known as the Izod Center in East Rutherford.
No. 2: WWE Owns WCW. (Figuratively and Eventually Literally.)
In 1996, WWE (then Titan Sports doing business as the World Wrestling Federation) sued WCW over the execution of what became the NWO storyline. WCW implied a bit too strongly that Scott Hall and Kevin Nash (whose names weren't mentioned on TV for several weeks) were Razor Ramon and Diesel invading WCW on the WWF's behalf, so it wasn't very surprising.
This led to a series of lawsuits filed by both companies as the war heated up. The background facts in a 1997 filing regarding a motion to dismiss filed by WCW has, by far, the most amusing passage in any wrestling related court filing I've read online:
"Plaintiff contends that success in the professional wrestling business depends upon the development of interesting wrestling characters and story lines. Characters must have names, personalities, histories, relationships, personas, and visual appearances that appeal to consumers.
Plaintiff alleges that WWF programming combines character-driven story lines with skillful wrestling while WCW has no reputation for creativity. TBS proposed interpromotional matches in order to associate WCW with WWF, but Plaintiff rejected this idea."
As part of the same lawsuit, WWE subpoenaed wrestling newsletter columnist turned WCW Hotline personality/Pittsburgh radio sports talk show host Mark Madden. Madden asserted journalistic privilege when asked who his sources were for one of his hotline reports.
The issue of whether or not Madden was actually serving as a journalist became its own mess. Eventually, the court ruled against him in vicious fashion:
"Madden's activities in this case cannot be considered 'reporting,' let alone 'investigative reporting.' By his own admission, he is an entertainer, not a reporter, disseminating hype, not news. Although Madden proclaims himself to be 'Pro Wrestling's only real journalist,' hyperbolic self-proclamation will not suffice as proof that an individual is a journalist.
Moreover, the record reveals that all of Madden's information was given to him directly by WCW executives. Madden's deposition testimony acknowledges that WCW employees were his sole source of information for his commentaries. He uncovered no story on his own nor did he independently investigate any of the information given to him by WCW executives.
Madden also fails the test in two other critical aspects: first, he was not gathering or investigating 'news,' and second, he had no intention at the start of his information gathering process to disseminate the information he acquired. Madden's work amounts to little more than creative fiction about admittedly fictional wrestling characters who have dramatic and ferocious-sounding pseudonyms like 'Razor Ramon' and 'Diesel.'"
Ouch. The whole thing is even more harsh and well worth reading.
The lawsuit went on for years, ending with a settlement in 2000. One of the terms gave WWE the right to bid on WCW's assets if the company was liquidated. As mentioned in the Sid slide, Time Warner cancelled WCW's television shows in March 2001 and sold the company assets to WWE.
The selling price was somewhere in the $2.5 million to $4.3 million range, depending on how it's calculated. As a term of the sale, WWE promised to buy a certain amount of advertising on TBS and TNT for a few years.
No. 1: Court Rules That Vince Russo's Shoot Promo on Hulk Hogan Wasn't a Shoot
This is a bit of a long one, but it's awesome.
Former WWE/WCW and current TNA writer Vince Russo loves him some "shoot angles" and "shoot promos." Logic be damned: He doesn't matter if he declares that everything you're watching is fake except for this, which is real.
At WCW Bash at the Beach 2000, Russo's latest wacky plan started with WCW Champion Jeff Jarrett lying down and letting a confused Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) pin him. Then Russo would cut a "shoot promo" on Hogan, tell him he didn't really win the title, and make a new main event of Jarrett defending the "real" title against Booker T.
WCW stopped using Hogan after that show. They requested that he appear at the WCW Greed pay-per-view event the following March, but he refused.
After WCW's assetts were sold to WWE in March 2001, Hogan sued Russo & the Universal Wrestling Corporation (WCW minus the name and assets they sold to WWE) over the promo, as he said that Russo went further than agreed upon. Purportedly, this breached his contract since he had full creative control and because he was not the featured wrestler on the show as promised.
He also sued for defamation and false light invasion of privacy based on the content of the promo. WCW counter-sued for breach of contract since Hogan didn't fulfill all of his pay-per-view appearances.
Anyway, a court actually had to parse a whether or not a wrestling promo ending with "Hogan you big bald son of a bitch ... KISS MY ASS!" was defamatory:
"In granting summary judgment to WCW on Bollea's claims for defamation and false light, the trial court, in a thorough and well-reasoned order, held that Russo's speech was made in a fictional context and asserted opinions amounting to hyperbole, which could not be proved false. The court also found that Bollea could not establish by clear and convincing evidence that Russo's speech was made with actual malice.
The record shows that Bollea acknowledged that the match occurred as it was scripted. Bollea stated that the story line was for the New Blood, led by Russo, to run the Millionaire's Club out of wrestling. Hogan was a main target of the New Blood and there was supposed to be real hostility between him and Russo. Bollea acknowledged that he took the microphone after Jarrett lay down in the ring and defaulted the match and said 'Is this your deal, Russo? That's why this company is in the damn shape it's in, because of bullsh-- like this.'
He admitted that this was said to further the story line that he and Russo hated each other. Bollea also acknowledged that he had given negative speeches about other characters in the scripts and other characters had given negative speeches about him. When asked how the Russo speech at the July 9 event was different from the many other negative speeches made about the Hulk Hogan character, Bollea responded:
'The difference in that negative speech as compared in any other negative speech that's been said about me is it's the first time anyone has ever given a negative speech without running it by me and consulting with me and all of us agreeing on it that were involved.'"
"As Bollea acknowledged, everything that occurred at the July 9 event was scripted. The story line to be advanced was that Hogan and Russo's characters hated each other. This was done by having one character deliver nasty diatribes about the other character.
During his 'promo' speech, Russo never mentioned Bollea, only the fictional character Hogan. Further, according to Russo's affidavit, he made this speech solely as his on-air character to advance the story line and thus to lead in to the final match of the event between Jarrett and Booker T.
In light of the above, the trial court correctly concluded that the allegedly defamatory speech could not be understood as stating actual facts about Bollea. Further, the trial court correctly held that Bollea could not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Russo's statements were made with actual malice.
As stated above, under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, supra, a public figure must show that the alleged defamatory statements were made with actual malice, that is with knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard that they were false."
That was the end of Russo's involvement in the suit. Hogan's case against the UWC for breach of contract continued, and I don't recall ever reading how it was resolved, so it was most likely settled.
Hogan continued to hold a grudge, refusing to work with Russo when TNA was wooing him in 2003-2004. Russo left the company, eventually returning in 2006.
Of course, if you're reading this, you probably know that Hogan has been working with Russo for a couple years now. Money troubles will do that to a person, I guess.
Wrestling is weird.