On Wednesday, a judge in Chicago’s U.S. District Court dealt Hawthorne Heights’ case against Victory Records a rather damaging blow, dismissing two of the band’s claims and severely poking holes in a third.
In his opinion, Judge Milton Shadur tossed out HH’s assertions that their contract with Victory was “terminable at will,” a legal tenet that states employees are free to terminate their employment “with or without notice or reason.” He called the concept “non-sustainable” and “absurd.”
And in doing so, Shadur also shot down two of the band’s main claims against Victory — counts 1 and 2 of their suit, which argued that the label’s continued selling of Hawthorne Heights releases constituted trademark and copyright violations (see “Hawthorne Heights Sue Victory Records, Say They’ve Been ‘Abused’ “ ). He also took the meat out of another claim, in which HH sought to have their contract voided at will, because, as he put it, “the main thrust of the motion … that claims terminability at will is not legally sound.”
Shadur, who is filling in while the judge assigned in the case, James B. Moran, recovers from illness, did not fully dismiss the third count, instead leaving it up to Moran to decide when he returns. He also left Hawthorne’s six other claims against Victory — which run the gamut from unfair competition and fraud to invasion of privacy — untouched, deferring to Moran.
Of course, both sides have their own takes on the rulings. Attorneys for Victory put out a press release late Thursday, trumpeting “a key ruling for Victory Records in Hawthorne Heights Litigation.” “Hawthorne Heights has a binding commitment to deliver two additional full-length albums to Victory,” read a statement from the label, “and Victory has the right to distribute and sell those albums.”
Victory attorney Chris Griesmeyer, who was in the Chicago courtroom on Wednesday to hear Shadur’s ruling, told MTV News that Hawthorne’s case has been pretty much gutted and dismissed the remaining claims against his client.
“By dismissing counts 1 and 2 against Victory, Judge Shadur has ruled that the band’s contract was not terminable at will, therefore Victory has the right to continue to use and distribute the bands work,” he said. “I think counts 1 and 2 were the most important for band, and the remaining counts are more window dressing. So we’ll see where the case goes from here.”
Hawthorne Heights obviously felt otherwise. “We disagree with Victory’s characterization of the court’s ruling, and we remain confident in our claims against Victory and Tony Brummel,” the band said in a statement. “We expect to prevail when all is said and done.”
A post on Hawthorne’s Web site also urged fans to not believe “the hype.”
“Don’t believe anything you read on the Internet,” the post read. “You’ll hear from us when something of importance happens in regards to our lawsuit.”
Hawthorne Heights originally filed suit against Victory in August, claiming “fraud” and “abuse,” and seeking to be let out of their contact with the label. The following month, Victory countersued, claiming that HH’s suit was actually motivated by their desire to jump ship to a major label (see “Victory Countersues Hawthorne Heights, Claims Band’s Suit Is ‘Really About Greed” ).
Griesmeyer told MTV News that Shadur’s ruling “in no way” affects the countersuit, which he says Victory intends to pursue.