A California judge on Thursday decided that a script supervisor once employed on the now-scuttled Western film Rust can press forward with demands for punitive damages after actor Alec Baldwin “discharged a loaded gun towards” the supervisor last year.
Mamie Mitchell, the script supervisor, sued Defendants Rust Movie Productions, LLC, Thomasville Pictures, LLC, and individuals Ryan Smith, Langley Cheney, wrote Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael E. Whitaker in an order which dealt only with those limited defendants. Additional defendants, including Baldwin, were also named in Mitchell’s original filings. Celebrity attorney Gloria Allred is the lead lawyer for the plaintiff.
Mitchell’s late November lawsuit alleged (1) assault, (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (3) deliberate infliction of harm. The lawsuit claimed the on-set shooting that took the life of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza left Mitchell with severe physical and mental injuries. It bombastically claimed that “Baldwin chose to play Russian Roulette with a loaded gun without checking it and without having the Armorer do so.” Various defendants later argued that claim was a rhetorical flourish that was wholly inaccurate as to the facts.
The aforementioned named defendants — minus Baldwin — collectively moved to strike Mitchell’s request for punitive damages via a motion that was unique and separate from the attempts at wholesale dismissal filed by the other myriad defendants. However, a judge disagreed with the attempt and kept Mitchell’s “prayer” for such damages alive. Thus, Mitchell’s case will advance through additional litigation hurdles.
The judge referred to Smith, Cheney, and the Rust and Thomasville corporate defendants as the “moving defendants” who filed the instant motion to strike the punitive damages prayer that was at issue in this particular ruling.
“Here, Moving Defendants argue Plaintiff’s allegations concerning their failure to take adequate precautions to prevent the gun discharge are conclusory and fail to rise to the level of ‘vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched or loathsome conduct’ to establish despicable conduct on their part,” Judge Whitaker wrote.
Mitchell naturally opposed the defendants’ characterization of her lawsuit as defective. She said she pleaded “intentional acts and/or omissions” that proved the defendants’ “utter disregard for [their] consequences” in a manner sufficient to support a punitive damages award, according to Judge Whitaker’s recap of the litigation.
The judge’s decision was based on the pleadings and was not a final decision on the merits.
“For pleading purposes, the Court finds the first amended complaint alleges facts sufficient to establish despicable conduct carried out by Moving Defendants with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others,” Judge Whitaker opined.
The judge noted that Mitchell pointed to “the occurrence of prior safety issues” on set. Those issues placed the defendants “on notice of serious firearms-safety-related problems on the set that endangered the cast and crew,” which the defendants “ignored and resulted in [the defendants] deciding not to search for and/or remove any live ammunition from weapons being used on the set.”
The judge continued as follows, but we’ve omitted the legal citations:
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges, “prior to the incident, guns had been misfired on set, including, without limitation, by [Baldwin] stunt double and a prop master who accidentally shot herself in the foot.” Plaintiff also alleges the ammunition, including the gun discharged by Baldwin had regularly been left unattended throughout the filming prior to the incident, and loaded firearms had been used by crew members for target practice by crew members against safety protocols that Moving Defendants should have, but neglected to, enforce. Finally, Plaintiff alleges Moving Defendants intentionally undertook a low budget and cost-cutting scheme that was known to create unsafe conditions for movie production crews that resulted in Moving Defendants’ failure to ensure basic safety protocols with respect to the hazardous use of firearms.
“Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiffs allegations in the first amended complaint demonstrate alleged despicable conduct carried out by Moving Defendants with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others sufficient to withstand a motion to strike,” the judge concluded in what was in essence a reaffirmation of his previous point.
The judge then ordered the defendants to file an answer to the complaint — generally, a point-by-point affirm-or-deny reply to the numbered allegations levied by the plaintiff — within 20 days.
“We are very pleased that the court denied defendants Rust Movie Productions, Thomasville Pictures, Ryan Smith and Langley Cheney’s motion to strike our client Mamie Mitchell’s lawsuit seeking punitive damages against them,” Allred wrote to Law&Crime in response to a request for comment. “The Court found that the Complaint our client filed sets forth factual allegations which ‘demonstrate alleged despicable conduct carried out by the Moving Defendants with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.’ We look forward to vigorously representing Ms. Mitchell to achieve a just result for her.”
Read the judge’s order below:
[This piece has been updated to include Allred’s comment.]
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