The producer of the 1997 film “Selena” will have to shore up his claims against Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. in order for the studio to remain part of a lawsuit over the creation of “Selena: The Series,” a judge ruled Tuesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maurice Leiter heard arguments Tuesday on the heels of issuing a tentative ruling Monday in Warner Bros.’ motion to be dismissed from the lawsuit brought by plaintiff Moctesuma Esparza. His final ruling largely reflected the tentative ruling and he gave Esparza a chance to file an amended complaint.
“Selena: The Series” is a Netflix production depicting the early years of the singer’s life. The suit alleges that Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, gave Esparza the rights to the life story of the late Tejano superstar in 1995. Included among the other defendants are Netflix Inc. as well as Abraham Quintanilla and his oldest daughter, Suzette Quintanilla, the former drummer for Selena y Los Dinos who turned 54 years old Tuesday.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff and the Quintanillas entered into an agreement in 1995 to transfer the life rights of Selena to a joint venture. Two years later, the Quintanillas and Warner Bros. signed contracts to make the “Selena” movie, according to the suit.
Esparza alleges the parties agreed the joint venture would continue until the expiration of the copyright of the film or by mutual agreement of the parties. Over several years, Esparza began working on a television series about Selena’s youth and he alleges that in 2018, the Quintanillas wrongfully licensed the life rights of Selena to Netflix to create a series about her youth without his involvement.
Warner Bros. attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the claims in the lawsuit that pertain to the studio: breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, tortious interference with contractual relations, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, accounting, monies had and received, and declaratory relief.
In his final ruling, the judge said all of those causes of action needed more facts and more clarity, citing the unjust enrichment cause of action as an example.
“Without more, (Esparza) has not alleged that Warner did anything wrong and that Warner’s retention of its compensation was unjust,” the judge wrote.
The 82-year-old Quintanilla, Suzette Quintanilla and other defendants in the case have filed a separate motion to be dismissed from the lawsuit on First Amendment grounds. Selena’s father has submitted a sworn declaration in support of the motion, which Leiter is scheduled to hear on Aug. 19.
“Esparza has targeted the Netflix Selena series solely for strategic reasons to interfere with the exercise of my rights to free speech,” Quintanilla says. “Indeed, Esparza filed this lawsuit before the Selena Netflix series even premiered.”
Esparza filed the suit last Nov. 6 and the series debut was Dec. 4.
Quintanilla also says that after Selena’s death, he was “very distraught” and “never sought out Esparza or his help, but he relentlessly pursued me, despite the fact I was in a deep state of mourning.”
Selena was shot to death on March 31, 1995, at age 23 in Corpus Christi, Texas, by Yolanda Saldivar, the president of her fan club. The singer had been scheduled to perform at the Los Angeles Sports Arena the following day.
Saldivar was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years. Now 60, she will be eligible for parole in 2025.