(CN) - The 9th Circuit reinstated the copyright claims of a writer who says 10 of his comedy skits appeared in "National Lampoon's TV: The Movie." The three-judge panel chided defense counsel for opposing the writer's "reasonable, justified" request for a filing extension.
"Our adversarial system relies on attorneys to treat each other with a high degree of civility and respect," Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote for the Pasadena-based panel.
"Where, as here, there is no indication of bad faith, prejudice, or undue delay, attorneys should not oppose reasonable requests for extensions of time brought by their adversaries."
In September 2007, Amir Cyrus Ahanchian filed suit against Sam Maccarone, director and writer of the film; Preston Lacy, writer and actor; distributor Xenon Pictures Inc.; and producer CKrush Inc.
He claimed that 10 of his copyrighted comedy sketches either appeared verbatim in the movie or provided the basis for other skits.
The film defendants moved for summary judgment, but waited until the last possible day to do so. That day fell just before Labor Day weekend, giving Ahanchian's attorney only eight days to oppose the motion.
Ahanchian asked a federal judge in Los Angeles for a one-week extension to file his opposition. He cited several reasons for the request: the defendants waited until the last day, just four days before Labor Day, to file their motions; the motions included 1,000 pages of exhibits; and both he and his attorney would be out of town over Labor Day weekend.
Defense counsel opposed the extension request, arguing that Ahanchian failed to show "good cause."
Ahanchian's attorney eventually succeeded in opposing the motion for summary judgment, but it was three days late.
U.S. District Judge John Walter not only denied the request for an extension, but also refused to accept the late-filed response, ruled for the defendants and awarded them $247,171 in attorney's fees.
The 9th Circuit reversed, saying Walter abused his discretion by not granting the extension.
"The record shows that Ahanchian's requested relief was reasonable, justified, and would not result in prejudice to any party."
She then criticized the defense attorney for vigorously opposing the request.
"By taking advantage of the unusual local rules, defendants cut Ahanchian's time to respond ... to five business days and three days over the holiday weekend," Wardlaw explained.
"Perhaps contributing to the district court's errors and certainly compounding the harshness of its rulings, defense counsel disavowed any nod to professional courtesy, instead engaging in hardball tactics designed to avoid resolution of the merits in this case," she wrote.
"Such uncompromising behavior is not only inconsistent with general principles of professional conduct, but also undermines the truth-seeking function of our adversarial system."
The federal appeals court reversed judgment for the movie defendants, vacated their fee award and remanded.
"Our adversarial system depends on the principle that all sides to a dispute must be given the opportunity to fully advocate their views of the issues presented in a case," Wardlaw wrote.