On October 11, 2018, a California appeals court ruled that a waiter, Gabriel Rueda (“Rueda”), claiming to have set up the lucrative boxing match between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, will have his day in court. Among other findings, the Court of Appeals found that defendants did not properly bring an “Anti-SLAPP” motion against Rueda because his claims do not arise from an activity protected by a California free speech statute.
In a unanimous decision, the 3-judge panel upheld a ruling which denied Pacquiao's attempts to have claims from Rueda dismissed through anti-SLAPP motions.
Defendants attempted to toss Rueda's claims for extortion and intentional infliction of emotional distress. These claims were based upon a meeting Rueda had with Pacquiao's attorney, Keith Davidson (“Davidson”), who allegedly tried to make him accept $50,000 rather than 2 percent of Pacquiao team's earnings that Rueda was promised. The court found:
“Because a personal attempt to persuade someone to comply with a promise is not necessarily activity undertaken in anticipation of litigation that is under serious consideration, and because the record does not otherwise demonstrate Rueda was seriously contemplating litigation at the time of their meeting — or that Davidson had reasonable grounds to believe otherwise — the trial court did not err in denying Pacquiao and Davidson's special motions to strike.”
Rueda had the opportunity to set up this historic fight by virtue of his relationship with recently resigned CBS CEO, Les Moonves, who regularly dined at the West Hollywood restaurant where Rueda worked (i.e., Craig's Restaurant). Rueda also knew Frederick “Freddie” Roach (Pacquiao's trainer)(“Roach”), because Roach also trained Rueda's son. Rueda alleges that Moonves suggested that he help set up the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. Moonves told Rueda that he would be “taken care of financially” if the fight took place. When Rueda told Roach about Moonves' interest, Roach promised Rueda a finder's fee for setting up the fight. The three men met in May 2014, and Rueda claims that he was promised “two percent of the gross proceeds earned by the Pacquiao-Roach team and CBS-Showtime.”
When the fight took place a year later, Pacquiao is said to have earned more than $160 million. Rueda only got a ticket to the fight in Las Vegas, one night's free lodging and $10,000 to cover other expenses.
A month later, Rueda asked Moonves about his fee and was told that CBS and Showtime made no money on the deal, the complaint alleges. Moonves said he would set up a meeting with Pacquiao's camp to address Rueda's payment. A day later, Davidson called Rueda on behalf of the boxer and his trainer, the complaint alleges. They met at a coffee shop where Davidson told Rueda to accept the $50,000 “tax free” offer and release all parties from their obligations or lose his job and “never work as an actor in this town again.”
When Rueda didn't accept the offer, he claims his tires were slashed, and that “people associated with Roach's boxing gym taunted Rueda at his workplace, filmed and touched him without his consent, and followed him at the end of his restaurant shifts late at night.”
Rueda ultimately sued in California state court, claiming unjust enrichment, fraud, extortion and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Davidson and Pacquiao attacked the latter two claims with the anti-SLAPP motions, which were denied by a lower court and, on Thursday, by the appellate panel.
Rueda is represented by Amman A. Khan of Khan Law Office and Gerald M. Serlin and Wendy S. Albers of Benedon & Serlin LLP.
Davidson was represented by John K. Ly and Jason L. Liang of Liang Ly LLP.
Pacquiao was represented by David Marroso, Jason Lueddeke and Daniel J. Innamorati of O'Melveny & Myers LLP.
The case is Rueda v. Pacquiao et al., case number B277840 in the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Five.
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