65 F.3d 725 (8th Cir. 1995), 94-3103, Ventura v. Titan Sports, Inc.

Docket Nº:94-3103, 94-3235.
Citation:65 F.3d 725
Party Name:Jesse VENTURA, doing business as Jesse
Case Date:September 11, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 725

65 F.3d 725 (8th Cir. 1995)

Jesse VENTURA, doing business as Jesse "The Body" Ventura,

also known as James G. Janos, Appellee,

v.

TITAN SPORTS, INC., a Delaware Corporation, doing business

as Titan Sports Enterprises, doing business as

World Wrestling Federation, doing

business as The WWF, Appellant,

A & H Video Sales Representatives, Inc., a New York

Corporation, doing business as Coliseum Video; LJN Toys,

Ltd., a New York Corporation; Putnam Publishing Group, and

its Division Perigee Books, also known as Putnam Berkley

Group, Inc.; Columbia House, a Foreign Corporation, Defendants.

Jesse VENTURA, doing business as Jesse "The Body" Ventura,

also known as James G. Janos, Appellant,

v.

TITAN SPORTS, doing business as Titan Sports Enterprises,

doing business as World Wrestling Federation,

doing business as The WWF, Inc., a

Delaware Corporation, Appellee,

A & H Video Sales Representatives, doing business as

Coliseum Video, Inc., a New York Corporation; LJN Toys,

Ltd., a New York Corporation; Putnam Publishing Group, also

known as Putnam Berkley Group, Inc., and its Division

Perigee Books; Columbia House, a Foreign Corporation, Defendants.

Nos. 94-3103, 94-3235.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 11, 1995

Page 726

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Submitted March 16, 1995.

Rehearing and Suggestion for Rehearing En Banc Denied Oct. 26, 1995.

Page 727

Jerry S. McDevitt, Pittsburgh, PA, argued (Mark Ginder, Minneapolis, MN, on the brief), for appellant.

Alan C. Eidsness, Minneapolis, MN, argued (David B. Olsen, on the brief), for appellee.

Before MAGILL, Circuit Judge, JOHN R. GIBSON, Senior Circuit Judge, and MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.

MAGILL, Circuit Judge.

This appeal arises out of a match between wrestler/commentator Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Titan Sports, Inc., which operates "The World Wrestling Federation" (WWF). Titan appeals the district court's judgment in favor of Ventura, arguing that (1) Ventura was not entitled to recovery under quantum meruit because an express contract covers the subject matter for which Ventura sought recovery; and (2) the district court erroneously admitted and relied upon the testimony of Ventura's damages expert. Ventura cross-appeals the district court's denial of prefiling interest. We affirm in all respects. 1

I. BACKGROUND

During July 1984, Titan entered into a licensing agreement with LJN Toys authorizing LJN Toys to manufacture dolls using the images of WWF wrestlers. Titan also entered a "master licensing" agreement with DIC Enterprises that resulted in WWF T-shirts, trading cards, calendars, a computer game and numerous other items. In December 1984, Titan entered into a licensing agreement with A & H Video Sales (d/b/a

Page 728

Coliseum Video) for the production of videotapes of WWF matches. Agreements with A & H and Columbia House resulted in the production of approximately ninety videotapes of WWF performances involving Ventura.

Ventura began wrestling for Titan in Spring 1984 under an oral contract with Vincent K. McMahon, Titan's President and sole shareholder. In late 1984, Ventura suffered medical problems and ceased to work as a wrestler, although Titan continued to pay him during his convalescence. After Ventura recovered, he returned to work for Titan as a "color" or "heel" 2 commentator under an oral agreement with Titan. He was paid a flat rate of $1000 per week and there was no discussion of videotape royalties or licenses. Shortly after returning to work for Titan, Ventura executed a "Wrestling Booking Agreement" (WBA) with an effective date of January 1, 1985. Ventura subsequently resumed wrestling for Titan, for which he was paid according to the terms of the WBA. In March 1986, Ventura terminated his relationship with Titan in order to pursue an acting career.

Ventura's foray into movies was moderately successful, but in fall 1986 he returned to Titan as a commentator, again under an oral agreement that made no mention of videotape royalties or licenses. In fall 1987, Ventura hired Barry Bloom as his talent agent. Bloom negotiated on Ventura's behalf with Dick Ebersol, Titan's partner in producing the "Saturday Night's Main Event" show. However, the negotiations quickly broke down, and as a result, the first show of the 1987-88 season aired without Ventura. A few weeks later, Titan's Vice-President of Business Affairs, Dick Glover, contacted Bloom concerning Ventura and represented to Bloom that Titan's policy was to pay royalties only to "feature" performers. Because Ventura was interested in working for Titan, Bloom thought it wise not to attempt to "break the policy." Ventura returned to work for Titan under a new contract that waived royalties and continued to work as a commentator for Titan until August 1990. Since that time he has worked as a commentator for WCW, Titan's main competitor.

In December 1991, Ventura filed an action in Minnesota state court seeking royalties for the use of his likeness on videotapes produced by Titan. The original complaint contained causes of action for fraud, 3 misappropriation of publicity rights and quantum meruit. Titan removed the case to federal court, and the case was tried before a jury. Although only the quantum meruit claim was submitted to the jury, the jury was given a special verdict form concerning misrepresentation. Using this form, the jury found that Titan had defrauded Ventura and that $801,333.06 would compensate Ventura for Titan's videotape exploitation of his commentary. The jury also determined that Titan exploited Ventura's name, voice or likeness as a commentator in other merchandise and concluded that $8,625.60 would compensate Ventura for this exploitation.

After the jury rendered its verdict, the district court concluded that Ventura was not entitled to a jury trial on his quantum meruit claim. Accordingly, the court vacated the jury verdict and entered findings of fact and conclusions of law that were consistent with the verdict. The court denied Ventura's request for prefiling interest but granted prejudgment interest from the time the suit was filed. Titan appealed, and Ventura cross-appealed the denial of prefiling interest.

II. DISCUSSION

Titan raises three claimed errors on appeal. First, Titan argues that Ventura was not entitled to quantum meruit recovery of royalties for the videotape 4 exploitation of his performance as color commentator during

Page 729

the 1985-87 (pre-Bloom) period because Ventura provided his commentating services under an express contract. Second, Titan claims that the district court erroneously applied the law of quantum meruit when it rescinded an express contract and awarded Ventura royalties for the videotape exploitation of his performance as color commentator during the 1987-90 (post-Bloom) period. Third, Titan alleges that the district court abused its discretion in qualifying and relying upon Ventura's expert witness in awarding damages. Ventura's cross-appeal presents a single issue: whether the district court clearly erred when it denied Ventura's request for prefiling interest. We address each of these issues in turn.

  1. Is quantum meruit available during the pre-Bloom period?

    Minnesota law determines the rights of the parties in this diversity action, and we review the district court's interpretation of Minnesota law de novo. Salve Regina College v. Russell, 499 U.S. 225, 231, 111 S.Ct. 1217, 1221, 113 L.Ed.2d 190 (1991). The basic contours of the law of quantum meruit, or unjust enrichment, are well settled under Minnesota law:

    An action for unjust enrichment may be based on failure of consideration, fraud, mistake, and situations where it would be morally wrong for one party to enrich himself at the expense of another. However, a claim of unjust enrichment does not lie simply because one party benefits from the efforts or obligations of others, but instead lies where one party was unjustly enriched in the sense that the term 'unjustly' could mean illegally or unlawfully.

    Hesselgrave v. Harrison, 435 N.W.2d 861, 863-64 (Minn.App.1989) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Although the applicable law is well settled, the facts of this case are rather unique and therefore require us to address some preliminary issues.

    The first unique aspect of this appeal involves defining the benefit received (allegedly unjustly) by Titan. Titan makes much of the fact that Ventura provided no services for Titan other than pursuant to the Ventura-Titan contracts. While it is true that the Ventura-Titan contracts governed all the services provided by Ventura (i.e., his acts of appearing at the wrestling match and commentating), the agreements do not necessarily address all the benefits created by Ventura's services. Ventura's services created several varieties of intellectual property rights. In defining the "benefit" conferred upon Titan, the proper focus is not merely Ventura's labor as he performed, but must also include the intellectual property rights created by Ventura's performance. Thus, we find that the intellectual property rights to Ventura's commentary are benefits upon which an action for unjust enrichment may be based.

    We next must determine whether Titan, in taking this benefit, was unjustly enriched. Ventura's quantum meruit claim may succeed only if Titan's rights to use Ventura's performance are limited so that Titan is not entitled to use the performance without Ventura's consent. We believe that Titan's rights are limited by Ventura's right to publicity. In determining the law of the State of Minnesota concerning publicity rights, we are bound by the decisions of the Minnesota Supreme Court...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP