California Court of Appeal Affirms Crusader's Victory Over Author Clive Cussler in High-Profile "Sahara" Case

March 04, 2010

Sonja Steptoe
O'Melveny & Myers LLP
213.430.6384 office
323.578.1586 cell

Erika Tucker
O'Melveny & Myers LLP
213.430.7792 office
213.422.9067 cell

LOS ANGELES, March 4, 2010 – O’Melveny & Myers LLP today announced that the California Court of Appeal has rejected Clive Cussler’s appeal of the 2008 judgment against him, confirming that Cussler lost each of his claims for relief and that Crusader owes him nothing.  


The Court of Appeal rejected Cussler’s post-trial attempts to construe a jury verdict against him into a US$8.5-million-dollar victory as baseless and without merit.  Instead, the Court affirmed the trial court verdict that the best-selling adventure author won nothing and is owed nothing.


“This court order is an overwhelming—and well-deserved—victory for my client,” said Marvin Putnam, an O’Melveny partner and Crusader’s lead attorney.  “As the jury correctly found, Crusader did not harm Clive Cussler in any way and owes him nothing.  Now, although he was first to sue, Cussler comes away with empty hands.”


Putnam added, “The Court of Appeal today confirmed that Cussler, not my client, was the party in the wrong here.  Cussler’s attempt to overturn the jury’s finding against him has been clearly and unequivocally rejected.  Needless to say, my client is thrilled with this result.  It confirms what we have known all along—that Cussler’s case against Bristol Bay was entirely baseless.” 


In addition to confirming that Cussler was not entitled to US$8.5 million in damages, the Court of Appeal rejected Cussler’s claim that his expert should have been permitted to testify to the profits an alternative “Sahara” based on his screenplay would have made, and confirmed that the trial court properly dismissed Cussler’s separate claim for declaratory relief. 


Because of changes in California law, the Court of Appeal also reduced Bristol Bay’s award on its cross-claim against Clive Cussler.  These changes could not have been anticipated at the time of trial and do not take away from the jury’s unequivocal decision that Cussler was in the wrong, Putnam stated. 


The “Sahara” lawsuit began in 2004 when Cussler filed a US$140-million-dollar complaint against Bristol Bay, alleging the production company was not honoring his creative rights under the film adaptation agreement for his series of books based on the adventure character Dirk Pitt.  The film, which starred Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, and Steve Zahn—and was directed by Breck Eisner, opened in April 2005 to positive reviews.  Bristol Bay countersued Cussler for his bad acts during production and his concerted attempts to thwart the film’s success.  Then, on the eve of trial, when it was discovered that Cussler and his publishing agent Peter Lampack had grossly inflated Cussler’s sales figures, Bristol Bay additionally brought a fraud claim against Cussler.


The resulting trial lasted 14 weeks and received international press attention.  The jury found against Cussler on all counts and awarded US$5 million to Crusader.  Nonetheless, post-trial Cussler and his trial counsel Bert Fields repeatedly claimed Cussler was the “clear winner” because the jury finding’s somehow entitled him to US$8.5 million dollars for the adaptation rights to a second novel and thus a net gain of US$3.5 million dollars.  After the trial court rejected this claim, Cussler appealed on the same grounds.  The Court of Appeal today rejected this claim entirely, finding Cussler is not entitled to US$8.5 million and thus has no net gain. 


About O’Melveny & Myers

With approximately 1,000 lawyers in 14 offices worldwide, O'Melveny & Myers LLP helps industry leaders across a broad array of sectors manage the complex challenges of succeeding in the global economy. We are a values-driven law firm, guided by the principles of excellence, leadership, and citizenship. Our commitment to these values is reflected in our dedication to improving access to justice through pro bono work and championing initiatives that increase the diversity of the legal profession. For more information, please visit www.omm.com


About Bristol Bay Productions:  Part of the Anschutz Film Group, Bristol Bay Productions develops, finances and produces feature films in all genres, which tell uplifting stories appropriate for audiences of all ages.  Bristol Bay Productions' films come from a number of sources: from popular books that have engaged millions, from the lives of influential people, and from timeless heroes and events that have inspired us all. Because of their broad appeal, Bristol Bay Productions' films are rated G, PG and PG-13 only.  In addition to “Sahara,” Anschutz Film Group has produced “Narnia,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Holes,” “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Ray.”  Upcoming films include the next “Narnia” production “The Voyage of the Dawn Treador” and the adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters.”