March 10, 2011
Breach of Contract and Charlie Sheen
Posted by Christine Hurt

I do not teach Contracts.  I have never wanted to, until maybe this week.  Because I couldn't figure out how to work Charlie Sheen into Torts.  (I'm sure in after a few more Sheen monologues/interviews, I'll have something.)  Unless you were prescient enough last month to create filters that would scrub all media for the words "Charlie Sheen," then you know by now that Warner Bros. has fired him from the No. 1 television show in America, though one I have never seen.  Because Sheen makes about over $1 million an episode, whether Warner Bros. or Sheen breached the contract is probably worth fighting over, so this morning Sheen filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. and producer Chuck Lorre.  (TMZ has the complaint here.)

Commentators have been weighing in on the likely success of such a suit already, realizing that at some point the show would not go on and that litigation would ensue.  Interestingly, Sheen's contract does not have a standard morals clause, but it has three provisions that his bosses are hanging their hat on.  First, the contract allows the producers to treat an action as a Sheen default if "Producer in its reasonable but good faith opinion believes Performer has committed an act which constitutes a felony offense involving moral turpitude under federal, state or local laws."  Sheen has been to rehab twice this year and has admitted to taking felony-level amounts of drugs.  However, he has not been convicted of a felony or is currently facing charges.  And, the producers turned a mostly blind eye to all of this until quite recently, when Sheen seemed to hit rock-bottom (and his nadir seemed to include televised rants against the producers).  For example, his contract was last renewed in May, when he was facing felony charges stemming from a domestic disturbance.  Warner Bros. seemed happy enough to let its popular star garner headlines and viewers with his self-destructive antics, at least for awhile.

Warner Bros. also points to its Force Majeure clause, which is not a simple "Act of God" clause.  The forces that are listed there relieve the producers from performing the contract if the death or incapacity of a principal star preclude them from doing so.  Of course here Sheen is the principal star.  Finally, Warner Bros.  includes a reference to a provision that gives the producers control over publicity of the show, requiring performers to get prior approval of show publicity.  Here, Sheen seems to be giving some unauthorized publicity!



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