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Bain v. MJJ Productions, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

May 13, 2014

RAYMONE K. BAIN AND DAVIS, BAIN & ASSOCIATES, INC., APPELLANTS
v.
MJJ PRODUCTIONS, INC. AND ESTATE OF MICHAEL JOSEPH JACKSON, APPELLEES

Argued, December 6, 2013

Page 643

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:09-cv-00826).

Joseph M. Creed argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Steven M. Pavsner and Levi S. Zaslow.

Henry W. Asbill argued the cause for appellees. With him on the briefs were Jennifer Bradley Lichter, Howard L. Weitzman, and Jeremiah T. Reynolds. Ryan J. Watson entered an appearance.

Before: BROWN and SRINIVASAN, Circuit Judges, and WILLIAMS, Senior Circuit Judge.

OPINION

Page 644

Srinivasan, Circuit Judge

In December 2003, the late entertainer Michael Jackson retained Davis, Bain & Associates, Inc., to act as his public relations firm. One of the firm's founders, Raymone Bain, began serving as a spokesperson and publicist for Jackson, later becoming his general manager. In May 2009, Ms. Bain and her firm (collectively, Bain) sued Jackson and his production company, MJJ Productions, Inc., claiming to be owed substantial sums for various services rendered. Those services included arranging the release of a 25th anniversary edition of Jackson's album, Thriller, generally recognized to be the best-selling album in history. The defendants (collectively, MJJ) moved to dismiss, relying principally on a December 2007 release agreement signed by Jackson and Bain. In the release agreement, Bain broadly relinquished any claims against Jackson and his business entities. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of MJJ, holding that the release agreement precluded Bain's claims.

Five months later, Bain moved for relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(2). Rule 60(b)(2) allows for relief based on " newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial." The " newly discovered evidence" cited by Bain was an April 2008 letter from Jackson to Bain, in which Jackson stated that he had no awareness of, and had never signed, the release agreement on which the district court had grounded its grant of summary judgment. The district court denied the Rule 60(b)(2) motion. Because we find no abuse of discretion in the district court's ruling that Bain failed to exercise reasonable diligence in seeking out the April 2008 letter, we affirm.

I.

According to the complaint, in May 2006, Bain and Jackson entered into a Personal Services Agreement. The agreement authorized Bain to incorporate a new company (the Michael Jackson Company) on Jackson's behalf, and appointed her the new company's president and chief operating officer. As compensation, she would receive a " 10% Finder's fee of any Agreement(s) entered into by Michael Jackson, or the Michael Jackson Company, generated by, or due to the direct efforts of Bain and/or Bain's contacts." J.A. 31. Bain alleged that she initiated a number of such projects, for which she claims to be owed compensation amounting to at least $44 million. Bain brought suit against MJJ in federal district court, invoking the court's diversity jurisdiction.

MJJ moved to dismiss the complaint based on a " Payment and Release Agreement" (the Release) signed by Bain in December 2007, which MJJ claimed absolved it of liability under the Personal Services Agreement. The Release provided that Jackson would render a payment to Bain in the amount of $488,820.05, as " full and final satisfaction of any [and] all monies, known or unknown, to be owed to you by the Jackson Parties with respect to any and all agreements whether verbal or written that you may have entered into with the Jackson Parties from the beginning of time until December 27, 2007." J.A. 104. One week after MJJ filed its motion to dismiss, Jackson unexpectedly died.

In opposing dismissal, Bain argued that the Release was defective due to fraud in the inducement, misrepresentation, and mistake. Bain also contended that the Release was facially ambiguous, permitting consideration of parol evidence to interpret the contract. ...


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