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Beverly Glen Music, Inc. v. Warner Communications, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary. A singer entered into a recording contract with a music producer.  The singer breached that contract and entered into a second recording contract with another music producer.  The first music producer sued the second movie producer in an attempt to enjoin it from hiring the singer.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. In California, breaches of personal service contracts cannot be enjoined unless they fall within Civil Code Section 3423, subdivision fifth.  According to that provision, the service must be unique in nature and the performer guaranteed at least $6000 annually.

    Facts. The Plaintiff in this matter was Beverly Glen Music, Inc. (the "Plaintiff").  In 1992, the Plaintiff singed a contract with Anita Baker ("Ms. Baker") and her first album grossed over $1 million.  In 1984, the Defendant, Warner Communications, Inc. (the "Defendant") offered Ms. Baker a considerably better deal and Ms. Baker accepted the deal and informed the Plaintiff she would no longer be performing their contract.  The Plaintiff initially sued Ms. Baker, but the Plaintiff eventually dismissed the suit.   Subsequently, the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for inducing Ms. Baker to break her contract.  Also, requesting an injunction ordering the Defendant not to employ Ms. Baker.  The trial court refused to issue this injunction.

    Issue. "[W]hether plaintiff–although prohibited from enjoining Ms. Baker from performing herself–can seek to enjoin all those who might employ her and prevent them from doing so, thus achieving the same effect."

    Held. No.  The court first recognized this was an issue of first impression, because although there are many cases where a former employer attempts to seek an injunction against a former employee forbidding them to work for a new employer, none discuss enjoining a potential employer from hiring the former breaching employee.  The court however discounted this distinction and agreed with the trial court.  Pursuant to the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition on involuntary servitude, personal service contracts are not specifically enforceable.  Meaning courts cannot enforce affirmative promises to perform a personal service contract.  However, to circumvent this restriction, some courts will prevent and employee from employing their talents elsewhere.  California, however did not adopt this principle entirely, and instead only promulgated a narrow exception in Civil Code Section 3423, subdivision fifth, which reads: "a contract in writing for the rendition or furnishing of personal services from one to another where the minimum compensation for such service is at the rate of not less than six thousand dollars per annum and where the promised service is of a special, unique, unusual, extraordinary or intellectual character…."  The trial court previously determined Ms. Baker did not satisfy these criteria.  As such, the court held "[w]hether plaintiff proceeds against Ms. Baker directly or against those who might employ her, the intent is the same: to deprive Ms. Baker of her livelihood and thereby pressure her to return to plaintiff's employ." Damages would have been a sufficient remedy.

    Discussion. This case demonstrates one state's hesitancy to specifically enforce performance contracts, based on its assessment that money damages are a sufficient remedy.


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