A judge said Tuesday she is inclined to allow a former “America’s Top Model” runner-up to take to trial her lawsuit against Bravo, two of Ryan Seacrest’s companies and a third production company, in which she alleges she was filmed “nearly naked” without her consent in 2017 for a “Shahs of Sunset” episode.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michelle Williams Court issued a tentative ruling denying a defense motion to dismiss Kiara Belen’s case on free-speech grounds, but said she wanted to review the issues further before issuing a final ruling.
Belen maintains she suffered emotional distress because of two allegedly unauthorized images of her used during the “Hava Nagila, Hava Tequila” episode, which featured Shahs of Sunset’s Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi at a 2016 LA Fashion Week runway show in July 2017 .
Addressing Belen’s claim for invasion of privacy, the judge said Belen has shown a likelihood of prevailing on the cause of action.
“Plaintiff has submitted evidence that she was in a second, guarded room with only limited access while changing and was filmed without her knowledge or permission wearing only panties, and that film was later included in the episode aired to an international audience and a clip of her undressed was in a promotional spot,” the judge wrote. “This is sufficient evidence to establish a probability of prevailing on this cause of action.”
As for Belen’s claim for unauthorized use of her likeness, the judge said the plaintiff “submitted evidence that her likeness, which was identifiable, was used without her consent to defendants’ advantage, and she suffered an injury.”
Belen filed her suit last July 29 against Bravo, Ryan Seacrest Productions LLC, Ryan Seacrest Enterprises Inc. and Truly Original LLC. According to the complaint, the first unauthorized use of Belen’s likeness occurred during a scene in which she walked down a runway and is referred to as a bitch by one of the show’s cast members.
In the second instance, Belen says she was filmed while changing in a private dressing area, exposing her “nearly naked body to millions of views.”
The unwanted exposure came at a time Belen was a few months pregnant with her daughter and was dealing with the challenge of dealing with her figure changing, leading to a period of “great insecurity.” according to her suit, which says Belen was left “feeling completely violated.”
Belen submitted a lengthy sworn statement in support of her opposition to the defense’s dismissal motion.
“Sometime in early August 2017, I was informed by several friends that they had seen me on an episode of `Shahs of Sunset,’ (and that I) was basically naked,” she said. “At first I was extremely confused, as I was clear that I had never been filmed, asked to be filmed, nor gave anyone permission to film me for any episode from that show.”
Belen said it was no accident that she was featured in the show’s footage.
“The idea that the use of my likeness exposing my private body parts and during the runway scene, where I was specifically referenced in each, cannot simply be considered an incidental use of my image, as if I was a passer-by who happened to get caught in a shot, or a person sitting in the crowd, Belen said. “In my opinion, the producers carefully choose which footage to include in every part of the episode that is correlated to a reference to a statement by a cast member.”
In their court papers, lawyers for Bravo, Seacrest and Truly Original said the filming and distribution of the “Shahs of Sunset” episode at issue is “undeniably protected by the First Amendment,”
Belen was “attempting to obtain a windfall arising from her fleeting inclusion in the background of a single episode of the television series,” according to the defense attorneys’ court papers.
Alan Brooks, production manager for Truly Original, producers of the “Hava Nagila, Hava Tequila” episode, said in a sworn statement that an announcement was made to Belen and others in the room that an episode of the series was being filmed. The production crew wore clothing identifying them as such, according to Brooks.
“At no point in time did any of the models, including plaintiff, request to not be filmed or express that they were uncomfortable with our presence in any way,” Brooks said.