A former American Idol contestant booted off the singing show during its second season nearly a decade ago is suing a group that includes Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and Morrison & Foerster, as well as E! Entertainment Television Inc. and Fox Inc., to the tune of $120 million.
In a lawsuit filed in Tennessee federal court January 25, Corey Clark accuses all four defendants of libel and false-light invasion of privacy over statements made following his ouster from the show and in connection with his claims that he and Idol host Paula Abdul had a romantic affair. The suit also specifically claims that the two firms and Fox (though not E!) conspired to commit commercial product disparagement.
Clark, who is represented by Nashville, Tenn., attorney Eugenia Grayer, was removed from Idol after a previous misdemeanor arrest came to light and the show’s producers claimed he had failed to inform them of his criminal record prior to the start of the competition. In 2005, the singer claimed he’d had a fling with Abdul while competing on the program, prompting Fox to launch an internal investigation led by attorneys at Gibson Dunn and MoFo. The legal team — which USA Today reported at the time was led jointly by Gibson Dunn litigation partner Marcellus McRae and then-MoFo partner Ivy Kagan Bierman, who is now an entertainment law partner at Loeb & Loeb — subsequently released a report claiming that no evidence had been found to substantiate Clark’s claims.
(By clearing Abdul — who, in the words of one of her biggest hits, straight up denied Clark’s claims — the report paved the way for her to return as an Idol judge the following season.)
The complaint calls the firms’s report the result of a “sham investigation,” claiming that Gibson Dunn had done previous work for Fox and that MoFo had a previous client relationship with Idol producer FremantleMedia. The suit alleges that both firms were on retainer for those respective clients and could not have been considered “independent counsel.”
Meanwhile, E! is named as a defendant in the suit as a result of programming the entertainment company aired since the report was published. The suit alleges that the E! production of E! True Hollywood Story: Paula Abdul, which first aired in January 2012, defames Clark by denying he and Abdul had a relationship and thus “unfairly imputes [Clark] as a liar.”
According to the complaint, the release of the 2005 report damaged Clark’s reputation in the public eye, as well as with his family and friends, to the extent that he was essentially “shunned.” In the fall of 2005, the complaint says: “[Clark] started receiving death threats from complete strangers in the streets. Random people spit on him and damned him to hell.”
Clark claims that his record company, Bungalo Records, stopped promoting his debut album, and that he was abandoned by the dancers and background singers he had been working with in advance of planned live performances. By May of the following year, Clark was looking to file a $20 million lawsuit against Viacom over his inclusion in a television show produced by Viacom subsidiary VH1 called VH1 All Access: Embarrassing Moments 2. According to the complaint, though, Clark did not proceed with the suit because he did not have the money necessary to pay a lawyer’s retainer.
In the summer of 2006, Clark — whom the complaint says had previously been evicted from his Los Angeles apartment and was living on food stamps — tried to commit suicide, but survived an attempt at hanging himself with a rope made from bedsheets.
The suit claims “the mass publication of the false results” by Gibson Dunn, MoFo and Fox damaged Clark’s business interests by making it impossible for him to have a successful music career. Meanwhile, the airing of the E! program has allegedly contributed to Clark suffering from “continuing exposure to hatred, contempt, ridicule, aversion and disgrace in the community,” according to the complaint. Clark claims the two law firms and Fox prepared the report knowing that it was false and that E! “knew or should have known” that its statements regarding him were false.
Grayer seems to anticipate that the defendants may seek to dismiss the suit under anti-SLAPP statutes, which are designed to protect against frivolous lawsuits. The complaint features a section making a case for why those statutes are not applicable in this instance, including the claim that the defendants made their allegedly defamatory statements about Clark with the knowledge that they were false.
Clark is requesting that the court permanently bar the defendants “from publishing any false and defamatory statements about [him] relating to his conduct in his trade or profession” and he is demanding a total of $120 million for a variety of compensatory and general damages, including $250,000 in special damages to recover the cost of “enforcing his legal rights” against the defendants.
Spokeswomen for Gibson Dunn and MoFo did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit. McRae and Bierman also did not respond to separate requests for comment.
This is not the first lawsuit Clark has filed in connection with the Idol imbroglio. He previously filed a $40 million suit against Viacom International and MTV Networks Enterprises last summer over MTV News coverage of his Idol dismissal and allegations about Abdul. (That suit is pending.) The Hollywood Reporter also reports that Clark is also one of nine of the show’s former contestants who filed a petition with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week asking it to bring a suit against the program for racial discrimination.