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Current Developments in the Commercial Divisions of the
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Posted: April 5, 2014

Agency Agreement Within the Statute of Frauds

On March 26, 2014, Justice Ramos of the New York County Commercial Division issued a decision in William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, LLC v. Rivera, 2014 NY Slip Op. 50458(U), dismissing claims against TV personality Geraldo Rivera on Statute of Fraud grounds.

In William Morris, the plaintiff, the well-known William Morris talent agency, sued its former client Geraldo Rivera for unpaid commissions. The complaint alleged that the parties entered into a series of three-year written contracts between 1985 and 1994, and that WME had continued to represent Rivera until he had stopped paying commissions in 2010. Rivera claimed that the last written contract stated that he was to be represented only by one particular agent, and when that agent left WME in 2010, Rivera went with him, continued paying him commissions, and had never been represented or advised by any other WME agent.

Rivera moved to dismiss on the grounds that WME had failed to allege the existence of a written agreement that satisfied the Statute of Frauds. The court agreed, rejecting WME’s argument that the parties’ course of conduct since the last written contract expired in 1997 created an enforceable agreement:

The alleged Agency Agreement is an oral agreement, a logical construct on behalf of WME’s position. The writings executed by the parties in 1985, 1988, 1991 and 1994 all specified a three-year term. After 1997, they followed a consistent course of conduct in their dealings, but no written agreement controlled their behavior. Undoubtedly, the alleged Agency Agreement is unenforceable by application of the statute of frauds, as well-illustrated by a case on point . . . . Therefore, the Court concludes that the parties had no enforceable commission agreement after October 1997, because the statute of frauds requires a written agreement.

(Internal citation and quotation omitted.)

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