The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland recently held that a boxer’s agreement with his business manager granting the manager exclusive rights to the boxer’s name and image and the right to produce books or movies regarding his life story did not violate the free speech clause of the First Amendment. The court reasoned that the private agreement did not involve state action so as to run afoul of the First Amendment. Nevertheless, the court did allow a challenge to the agreement to proceed based on the claim that the “life story” rights given to the manager were not exclusive. The case is JW & JJ Entertainment, LLC v. Sandler.
The lawsuit involves Roberto Duran Samaniego, a world-renowned Panamanian boxer who is being featured in a 2013 movie in production called “Hands of Stone” starring Edgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, and Usher. His former manager, Maryland resident Mark Sandler, had previously sued Duran’s company to enforce his management agreement with Duran and obtained a default judgment in the amount of $356,390.19.
The companies producing the 2013 movie sued in Maryland federal court seeking to obtain a declaratory judgment and injunction to prevent enforcement of certain aspects of Sandler’s management agreement with Duran. The court held, however, that the lawsuit must be dismissed to the extent that it claimed that the agreement violated the First Amendment, and to the extent the lawsuit sought injunctive relief.
The court also acknowledged the potential preclusive effect of the prior default judgment, and that the “non-compete” language in the agreement seemed to require Sandler’s consent for movie productions of Duran’s life story. The court allowed the lawsuit to proceed, however, based on Maryland law allowing certain claims to be asserted despite prior judgments, and based on a potential ambiguity in the agreement as to whether Duran’s “life story” rights were exclusively granted to Sandler. Based on this ambiguity, the court found that the parties could submit evidence outside the agreement to establish the parties’ intent.
The lawsuit remains active and the court acknowledged that future evidence and filings will help determine the issues more conclusively.