Actress Sues IMDb For Posting True Information

Last week, we learned of the resolution of one may qualify as one of the dumbest lawsuits I’ve ever seen:

The actress who filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Internet movie database IMDb for revealing her real age lost her battle in court Thursday when a federal jury in Seattle rejected her claim.

Junie Hoang, 41, sued IMDb and Amazon.com for breach of contract in 2011, alleging that the company changed her information to reveal her true birthday, and thus her true age, and thereby damaged her acting career.

“There was a film that I lost,” Hoang told ABC News.  “A friend of mine got me into the film through my headshot and resume but then when they went to my IMDb profile and saw that I was really that age, they went back and said, ‘Sorry, you’re too old.'”

The judge dismissed IMDb’s parent company, Amazon.com, as a defendant, but Hoang’s case against IMDb was brought to trial.

(…)

In court documents Hoang, who initially filed the lawsuit anonymously as “Jane Doe,” said she believed that both her age and her hard-to-pronounce Asian name were drawbacks in Hollywood where “youth is king.” The lawsuit said that “if one is perceived to be over-the-hill i.e. approaching 40, it is nearly impossible for an up and coming actress, such as the Plaintiff, to get work…”

IMDb used the information from her IMDbPro subscription, which included her credit card and billing information, real name, to conduct a public records search, where they found her real age. Hoang asked IMDbPro to remove the information and they refused.

Calling the practice “unfair, immoral and unscrupulous,” Hoang’s Seattle-based lawyers asked for $1 million in punitive damages, which the jury turned down.

“Everyone understands the importance of IMDb and everybody understands how important age is,” Hoang said after the verdict.  “It’s such a competitive business and why put another factor for someone to deny you from getting work.”

Lawyers for IMDb , who declined to comment to ABC News, argued in court that the company has a First Amendment right to publish accurate information and that Hoang could not prove she had lost any money or acting roles because of her age being revealed, according to the Associated Press.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the fact that she filed this case as a “breach of contract” case rather than a defamation case. Under defamation, of course, the truth of Hoang’s age would have been a perfect defense and no part of the case would have made it to trial. While I haven’t seen any pleadings, I would imagine that her attorneys breached their contract with Hoang (as a paid subscriber to IMDb’s pro service) by posting information without her consent. Since they framed it this way, it’s not too surprising that they got beyond a Motion To Dismiss. At the same time, the argument that a company that is in the business of collecting and posting information about actors, directors, and movies, breached its contract by posting information that is completely truthful is simply absurd. Their entire business model would be called into question if it was known that they were colluding with the people whose biographies they post online to tell lies. The other thing that stands out to me is that I’m not sure how her attorneys ever thought they could prove damages here. Did they really think that they were going to be Producers and Casting Directors on the stand and essentially get them to admit that they engaged in age discrimination?

Besides, there may be other reasons Hoang was turned down for those roles:

The actress, who has starred in the films “Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver” and “Hoodrats 2: Hoodrat Warriors,” will next be seen in “Exotic Dancers of Houston” and “Pretty Perfect, “according to IMDb.

Not exactly top box office draws, assuming any of them were ever even released in theaters.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    At least the outcome of the suit was right. However, this was an expensive publicity stunt, to be sure.

  2. Anon says:

    Would this be one of those situations where age discrimination is perfectly legal and acceptable?

  3. @Anon:

    If you’re referring to inside Hollywood? Most likely so. The law doesn’t prohibit age discrimination, it merely says that employers cannot engage in it without some compelling reason. The fact that a Casting Director decides against hiring someone who either is, or appears to be, older than the role that they are trying to case calls for, would typically be sufficient justification.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I wonder if this is an instance of confusing the law with justice. The laws of most countries don’t treat the truth as an absolute protection against charges of defamation as it is here. Even here the notion is weakening.

    People’s sense of justice is learned, it isn’t international, and justice and the law are two different things.

    For actors or actresses whose primary talent is youthful good looks the truth really does hurt. It’s a particularly severe problem for actresses.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    If this is one of the dumbest lawsuits you’ve seen then you haven’t seen all that many dumb lawsuits.

    Merely by way of example, about 12 or so years ago I was at a firm that represented a national grocery store operator. An assistant store manager, who happened to be black, literally got caught stealing, drinking and drunk on the job. No, seriously. In the back of the store at which he worked, while on the clock, chugging a bottle of vodka he had swiped out of the vodka display. Obviously he got fired on the spot. Sued for racial harassment and race discrimination. I’ve handled around a dozen or so cases along similar lines. And that’s just me, personally. The two national firms at which I’ve worked over the years have handled many hundreds of similar cases. Perhaps thousands.

    How about the fraudulent lawsuit out there? People who throw themselves down on the floors at retailers and then sue for slip/trip and falls? Or the people who stage car accidents and then sue for the insurance money? Why do you think your comp. and collision premiums are so high? Why do you think retailers have such high markups?

    Yes, Virginia, we need fundamental and comprehensive tort and lawsuit reforms in this country. Beginning with losers pay winners’ attorneys’ fees. Take a wild guess, however, who’s vehemently opposed to such measures. Who’ll never allow them to be enacted, even as we devolve into a de facto banana republic. Starts with “D” and ends with “s,” and we’re not talking about Druids.

  6. Kylopod says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The fact that a Casting Director decides against hiring someone who either is, or appears to be, older than the role that they are trying to case calls for, would typically be sufficient justification.

    From a legal perspective you’re absolutely right, and I agree that this actress’s case has no merit. That said, I should note that the standards in Hollywood for what constitutes the proper age for a woman’s role is often loaded with unfair sexism. It’s extremely common for movies to feature a man who’s 10, 20, even 30 years older than his female romantic partner, even if it isn’t in any way necessary to the story. Hollywood just has an aversion to showing women above a certain age in romantic roles, even though it doesn’t blink an eye when the man is middle-aged. (This isn’t exclusive to “romantic movies”; very often when a movie or TV show presents what’s supposed to be an ordinary married couple, the man will be substantially older than the woman.) This isn’t a new problem: it’s been going on since the 1930s (and probably earlier, I’m just not as familiar with the silent era). If anything, the problem has lessened slightly in modern times, but that’s only because aging actresses today get tons of plastic surgery to make themselves look younger.

  7. grumpy realist says:

    Wot? Well, at least the lawyers didn’t go for the defamation charge….This looks like they had someone who was willing to pony up for a lawsuit, so they said to themselves, hey, let’s try this as a breach-of-contract case.

    In other words, throw a bunch of legalese at the wall and see what sticks….

  8. Alex says:

    the argument that a company that is in the business of collecting and posting information about actors, directors, and movies, breached its contract by posting information that is completely truthful is simply absurd.

    No it’s not. “Truthful” and “confidential” are intersecting sets, after all. If IMDB had obtained her private medical records and posted them, she would definitely have a case, even if what they posted was absolutely true.

  9. Franklin says:

    @Alex: This was one thought I had; is my age really a public piece of information?