Shirley Maclaine Parker v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation


Court: Supreme Court of California

Facts: Parker (plaintiff) was contracted (8/6/65) to play the lead in "Bloomer Girl," a musical, and for this was guaranteed compensation of $750K. Approximately a month prior to the specified commencement of work and payment, Fox (defendant) revealed that it had decided not to honor the contract, and offered a part in a Western-style movie "Big Country, Big Man" as a substitute. The contractual provisions for this latter work were similar but not identical to the terms of the "Bloomer Girl" work, and at least some of the differences arose because of differences between the substance of the pictures. The "Big Country" offer was contingent upon acceptance within one week. The plaintiff let this period lapse, and then sued to recover the guaranteed compensation.

The defendant argued that the rejection of "Big Country" was an unreasonable avoidance of the duty to mitigate damages, but did not dispute any of the facts surrounding its actions or the content of the contracts involved.

In light of this, the trial court found that no triable issue of fact was present. Plaintiff issued a motion for summary judgment on this basis, and the defendant appealed.

Posture: Summary judgment granted by trial court; appealed by defendant

Issue: The question of whether the granting of summary judgment was proper rests on the matter of whether or not the case involved a triable issue of fact. In order to decide this, the appellate court must decide whether or not the "Big Country" offer was different or inferior to the orignal "Bloomer Girl" contract. If so, then summary judgment was the correct path; if not, then there should have been a trial.

Holding: The trial court ruled correctly, because the substitute offer was both different and inferior, and these facts were not in dispute.

Rule: Summary judgment is only an option when there is no dispute of facts.

Reasoning: No appeals to precedent. To reduce damages employer must affirmatively prove that the employee might have earned a certain amount with reasonable effort. The employer must also show that the other employment option was comparable or substantially similar.

The court held, on the basis that no stretch of the imagination rendered acting in a Western substantially similar to performing in a musical, and this was obvious that an employer should not be able to force an employee into inferior employment in order to mitigate damages for a breached employment contract.

Moreover, the defendant's response to this offered no actual argument against any points, merely a restatement of the thesis that the "Big Country" offer was reasonable. Therefore, there could be no issue for a trial to decide.

Dicta: Dissenting opinion: whether or not "Bloomer Girl" and "Big Country" were comparable is not a matter on which the court should rule presumptively-- it is an issue of fact to be decided at trial.