A California judge ruled Thursday that TV personality and “Science Guy” Bill Nye’s $28 million lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company may head to trial, albeit with limited claims.
Originally filed in August 2017, the suit claims that Disney violated its contract by failing to pay Nye and the co-creators of children’s science show Bill Nye the Science Guy the 50 percent of profits they were owed, per the terms of their distribution deal with Disney subsidiary Buena Vista Television. Nye’s attorneys have claimed that Disney shortchanged Nye and his partners and “conspired to prevent [Nye] from receiving full, accurate and reasonable accounting of the revenues and expenses of the BNSG series and its derivative works,” according to the suit.
Nye’s lawyers expressed disappointment with Thursday’s ruling, in which the judge ruled out their claim that Disney had breached fiduciary duty to the Science Guy, but they were looking forward to exposing some of Disney’s “improper accounting practices” at a trial scheduled for May 2020.
“While we are disappointed with the Court’s ruling yesterday and the flawed legal reasoning upon which it relied, we welcome the opportunity to litigate the remainder of our clients’ case at trial and finally recover the damages Mr. Nye and his fellow producers are entitled to, including an award of punitive damages,” a representative of the law firm Hamrick & Evans wrote in statement to Newsweek. “More importantly, it is our hope that this case, which Disney has fought so hard to stall, will finally shine some light upon the improper accounting practices that Disney utilizes to unjustly deprive profit participants, like our clients, of their fair share of revenues from the programing that they work so hard to create.”
Nye made a distribution deal with the Disney-owned company Buena Vista Home Entertainment in 1993 for Bill Nye the Science Guy. As Nye told Variety in 2017, he first suspected Disney’s accounting department of wrongdoing in 2008, when the company informed him that he owed Disney nearly $500,000 due to an “accounting error” in his annual profit participation payment.
Disney insisted Nye repay the money from the accounting error before continuing to send royalties for Bill Nye The Science Guy. When Nye’s attorney attempted to negotiate with Disney regarding the payment, Disney insisted that Nye should have requested an audit of the company. Despite their insistence on an audit, the suit alleges, Disney “had no intention of ever accommodating” one, as evidenced once Nye hired a professional auditor. After a lengthy struggle to access the show’s financial records, that auditor eventually priced Disney’s under-reporting at $28.1 million. Of that amount, Nye claims that Disney owes him $9.4 million.
In motion for summary adjudication, filed by Disney in response to the suit, the company claimed that Nye’s accusations are “time-barred” by the statute of limitations.
Following Thursday’s ruling, the trial is scheduled to begin in May 2020.
This is not the first time Disney has been accused of under-reporting revenue to reduce royalty payouts. In 1991, Stephen Slesinger, who owned the rights to the Winnie the Pooh estate, filed a lawsuit against the company for a similar issue shortly before his death. The case was dismissed in 2004 in light of misconduct by Slesinger’s estate, The Disney Blog reported. The court found that Slesinger’s widow had hired a private investigator who had stolen confidential documents from Disney and lied to cover it up, according to The LA Times.
The Walt Disney Company did not respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.
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