A federal judge in Los Angeles has indicated she is leaning toward dismissing most of an Iraq war veteran’s lawsuit against the makers of “The Hurt Locker” but may allow him to pursue his key claim that the Oscar-winning film is based on his life.
The producers, director and screenwriter of the movie had been seeking an outright dismissal of Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver’s lawsuit, but U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Nguyen indicated in a tentative ruling that she may allow him to pursue a misappropriation of name and likeness claim. Her draft ruling indicated that she plans to dismiss Sarver’s claims of defamation, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Sarver sued in March 2010, days before it went on to win six Academy Awards, including for best picture and honors for director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal.
Boal was embedded with Sarver’s unit in Iraq and spent a month profiling him for a story he wrote for Playboy magazine titled “The Man in the Bomb Suit.” The sergeant claims Boal had no right to use his life as a template for “Hurt Locker.”
Boal, Bigelow and the film’s producers have denied Sarver is the basis for the film.
Sarver’s attorney, Todd J. Weglarz, said that if Nguyen’s tentative ruling stands, said the misappropriation claim “is the essence of this case.”
Attorneys for Boal, Bigelow and the film’s producers urged Nguyen to reconsider her initial ruling, arguing that “The Hurt Locker” bore some resemblance to Sarver’s experience, but that it contained numerous creative elements that made it deserving of First Amendment protection.
If Sarver were allowed to continue the case, which he first filed in New Jersey, it could have a chilling effect on other films based on real-world events, attorneys for the filmmakers argued.
“That’s going to directly impact artists, directors, filmmakers in the future,” said Jeremiah Reynolds, an attorney for Bigelow and Boal.
Summit Entertainment attorney David Halberstadter said most of the similarities between Sarver and the film’s protagonist played by Jeremy Renner were elements common to most soldiers, and the film included numerous scenes that Boal never witnessed Sarver performed.
Weglarz disagreed, saying traits of his client and similar details about his personal life are present in Renner’s character.
“How anyone can say the movie is not about Sgt. Sarver, I don’t know,” his attorney Todd J. Weglarz said.
Nguyen did not state when she would issue a written ruling and did not indicate whether Monday’s arguments had changed her mind about the likeness issues. She also did not indicate whether she would require Sarver, who Weglarz said is now retired from the military, to pay the legal costs for the “Hurt Locker” defendants as they are requesting.