Entertainment mogul Tyler Perry wants to buy 330 acres of Fort McPherson to expand his film studio. (Photo via Newscom)
Attorneys for a state commission redeveloping the grounds of Fort McPherson say that an Atlanta lawyer’s company is acting like “a spurned suitor” in trying to disrupt the sale of the base to entertainment mogul Tyler Perry.
Attorneys for Perry, Perry Studios and the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority (MILRA) have asked a federal judge in Atlanta to dismiss a suit filed last month by Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios, which is owned by Atlanta attorney Daniel Meachum.
Perry’s attorneys, Kyler Wise and Larry Dingle at Atlanta’s Wilson Brock & Irby, contended that fraud claims made by Ubiquitous studios should be dismissed because Ubiquitous never had a written contract or even a memorandum of understanding with anyone to purchase any of the fort acreage.
On Thursday, Dingle declined to comment on the case. MILRA attorney Michael King at Greenberg Traurig could not be reached. In motions to dismiss the case, they argued that the only written offer that Ubiquitous claims to have submitted to buy property was incomplete, included no description of the desired acreage and was rejected by the state commission.
The suit, filed in July, “is premised entirely upon oral discussions and communications [Ubiquitous] claims to have had with MILRA representatives which did not even reach the negotiation level,” Perry’s lawyers contend. “Such allegations cannot serve as a basis to sue anyone.”
Ubiquitous studios, which operates out of Meachum’s downtown law office, sued MILRA and Perry after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and MILRA Chairman Felker Ward Jr. announced in June that the city and MILRA had entered into “robust” talks to sell the military property to Perry. Ward told the Saporta Report earlier this month that a memorandum of understanding between MILRA and Perry Studios is now in place.
Ubiquitous attorney Ed Jones declined to comment on the case. In a written response to the dismissal motions, Jones and cocounsel Tony Axam said that federal law requires that federal lands be transferred “in a very particular manner and under very particular conditions.”
MILRA, they said, “does not deny this fact but instead argues, essentially, that [Ubiquitous Entertainment Studios] does not have the right to call it to the carpet for failure to follow those clearly prescribed procedures and requirements.”
Ubiquitous, they said, “has a constitutionally protected right to be treated on equal footing as Tyler Perry Studios concerning purchase of land at Fort McPherson.”
The Ubiquitous complaint seeks more than $1 million in damages from Perry, Tyler Perry Studios, MILRA and several federal agencies. It claims that Ubiquitous was the first company to suggest building a movie studio entertainment complex on the base and that company representatives had received verbal commitments regarding the sale of 80 acres to the studio before Perry began negotiating his own deal.
The suit asserts “on information and belief,” but without offering any details, that while Ubiquitous was negotiating to buy the property, MILRA officials quietly contacted Perry and provided him with site plans, construction plans, drawings and the business plan that Ubiquitous had given to the officials during its negotiations.
Perry, according to the suit, subsequently submitted his own similar plan that contained the identical site location that Ubiquitous Studios had sought to buy for a studio, sound stage, animation, school and education complexes.
The suit claims that MILRA’s failure to consummate the Fort McPherson sale to Ubiquitous Studios was a violation of the company’s constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law because MILRA’s actions “were taken in concert with other public officials while MILRA officials were acting … within the line and scope of their employment” as government employees.
In the first public rejoinder to the suit, Perry’s lawyers contend that the allegations in the suit are “threadbare” and false. They said that neither Perry nor his studio used any of Ubiquitous studios’ site plan documents in preparing Perry’s proposal for a movie studio and entertainment complex on the former military installation grounds. The suit, they said, “is premised entirely upon oral discussions and communications [Ubiquitous] claims to have had with MILRA representatives which did not even reach the negotiation level. Such allegations cannot serve as a basis to sue anyone.”
Perry’s lawyers also argued that although representatives of Ubiquitous may have provided proposed plans for the development of the site to MILRA, they did so without executing any confidentiality agreement and also distributed the proposal to numerous third parties. Giving the proposal to a state agency without the appropriate written confidentiality assurances made it and any accompanying documents a matter of public record under state law, Perry’s lawyers said.
Perry, they added, “had nothing to do with MILRA not doing business” with Ubiquitous.
MILRA’s attorney argued in its motion to dismiss the suit that a proposed letter of intent that Ubiquitous delivered to MILRA last December “can in no real sense be considered an offer to purchase particular property.” The letter, attached to MILRA’s dismissal motion, while billed as a proposal to purchase 80 acres, outlined a proposal for the purchase of less than 10 acres and left blank the description, the address, and current ownership of the property to be purchased.
The attached site plan, according to King, “is no more than the survey of the entire Fort McPherson tract. … No legal description of the property is contained in the letter. The letter is not signed by MILRA.”
King added, Ubiquitous acknowledged in its complaint that MILRA rejected the incomplete offer and that there were “other interested parties” pursuing the property.
Ubiquitous “is claiming that MILRA promised that [the studio] could buy a portion of the Fort McPherson property,” he said. “To be enforceable, such a promise would have to be in writing. Since no writing was signed by MILRA, there was no enforceable promise to sell property.”