Lizzo to keep $5m upfront payment from cancelled LA festival

Stars Lizzo, Ellie Goulding and Kali Uchis will be able to keep millions of dollars in upfront payments from a cancelled festival following an appeal court ruling in California.

The California Court of Appeal sided with talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME) and the artists in a row over the inaugural Virgin Fest LA in 2020, which was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. The panel affirmed the trial court’s award of summary judgment for WME on all claims.

In total, organiser VFLA paid out $6m to secure the artists, including $5m to Lizzo. The ruling means they now keep that money.

VFLA sued WME in a dispute over guarantees paid to secure performances by the trio. The event — formerly KAABOO festival — was scheduled for June 2020 at Banc of California Stadium and Exposition Park. However, when it was cancelled due to the pandemic, VFLA demanded the return of the guarantees, citing force majeure.

The artists refused VFLA’s demand, as the force majeure provision in their performance agreements “squarely placed the risk of a force majeure event on the new festival organiser” according to the Paul Hastings legal practice, which represented WME and the artists.

VFLA then filed suit against the artists, but also sued WME for conversion, money had and received, violating the California Unfair Competition Law, and declaratory relief.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favour of both the artists and WME.

Paul Hastings added: “The trial court not only agreed with the artists’ interpretation of the force majeure provision, it also determined that VFLA had not shown that WME had engaged in any independently wrongful or tortious conduct and that WME could not be held liable as an agent under the performance agreements.”

This month, the Court of Appeal affirmed the summary judgment ruling, confirming the artists’ interpretation of the force majeure provision and dismissing VFLA’s challenges to the judgment in favour of WME.

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