(CN) – A record label can get a retrial on whether it owes $10 million in damages to five North Carolina police officers who arrested rapper Game at a mall, the state Court of Appeals ruled.
Jayceon Taylor, whose stage name The Game has since been shortened to Game, was arrested in 2005 when he refused to stop filming without permission at the Four Seasons Mall in Greensboro, N.C. The Los Angeles native was charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and communicating threats.
A member of Game’s entourage recorded the incident, and a version of that video appeared as a bonus feature to a documentary called “Stop Snitchin’ Stop Lyin.'”
But the footage was heavily edited to make it appear that Game was falsely arrested, and it was promoted as a video of police brutality.
Hien Nguyen and the other four officers sued Game, Bungalo Records and several other entities, claiming defamation, unfair and deceptive practices, and wrongful appropriation of a likeness.
At trial, the officers testified about getting recognized from the video, leading to troubles on the job and fears for their safety and that of their families.
A Guilford County judge awarded each officer $1 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.
The judgment was entered against Game, Bungalo, Engel Thedford, Michael Kimbrew, Anthony Torres, Black Wall Street Records, Black Wall Street Publishing, General GFX, Grind Music and Jump Off Films.
Game and Bungalo alone challenged the judgment, persuading the North Carolina Court of Appeals to throw out the punitive damages award.
Though there is no inherent problem with the $10 million figure, the trial court erred in using evidence of DVD profits to support the award.
“The trial court’s judgment indicates that it awarded punitive damages because (1) “Defendants’ conduct and motives … were reprehensible;” (2) “the Defendants either were or should have been aware of the likelihood of serious harm to the Plaintiffs;” and (3) “the Defendants made in excess of FORTY MILLION DOLLARS ($40,000,000) from the DVD, and have the ability to pay the punitive damages awarded.”
That second factor improperly relied on “the admissions of Taylor, Black Wall Street Records, LLC, Black Wall Street Publishing, LLC, and Jump Off Films.”
“Thus, the trial court improperly used the admissions of Bungalo’s co-defendants to determine the amount of punitive damages to award against Bungalo,” Judge Anne Marie Calabria wrote for a unanimous panel.
While the defendants will face a new trial on punitive damages, the court rejected the remaining challenges.
“Taylor admitted that the DVD was edited to give the impression that he did nothing wrong during the arrest, in an attempt to defame plaintiffs,” Calabria wrote.
Game’s 2004 album “The Documentary” included hit singles “How We Do” and “Hate It or Love It,” a collaboration with 50 Cent that earned two Grammy nominations.