A judge's gavel. Photo from Pixabay.
A judge’s gavel. Photo from Pixabay.

A state appellate court panel ruled Tuesday that a former “America’s Top Model” runner-up who alleges she was filmed “nearly naked” without her consent for a “Shahs of Sunset” episode aired in 2017 can take to trial her lawsuit against Bravo, two of Ryan Seacrest’s companies and a third production company.

The three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal affirmed a February 2019 decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michelle Williams Court, who denied a defense motion to dismiss Kiara Belen’s case. The motion was based on free-speech grounds.

The only change in the unanimous ruling, written by Justice Maria Stratton, was to strike Belen’s claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. The justices found it was “part and parcel of the negligence cause of action.”

Belen maintains she suffered emotional distress because of two allegedly unauthorized images of her used during the “Hava Nagila, Hava Tequila” episode, which featured the show’s Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi at an October 2016 LA Fashion Week runway show aired in July 2017.

“The show’s sexual exploitation of Belen’s body was extremely painful to her for two reasons,” Stratton wrote. “First, she had undergone years of therapy following a sexual assault in 2014. Upon seeing the episode, Belen became nauseous. Second Belen was four months pregnant at that time and her body was undergoing serious changes. She felt sickened that the show’s producers exploited her pregnant body.”

Addressing Belen’s claim for invasion of privacy, Stratton said Belen has shown a likelihood of prevailing on the cause of action.

“The footage of her nearly completely naked body (was) broadcast and exposed (her) to hundreds of thousands if not millions of people (she) didn’t know, causing her severe emotional distress, sleepless nights, nausea, and requiring her to return to therapy,” Stratton wrote.

Belen filed her suit in July 2019 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 as Belen was a few months pregnant with her daughter and faced 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.”

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 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.

“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.

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