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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
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Professor Must Defend Claim She Blocked Film

(CN) - The producers of a archeological documentary have a contract interference claim against a Vanderbilt University professor but not against the university itself, a federal judge ruled.

Associated Producers Ltd. and Simcha Jacobovici sued Vanderbilt and professor Robin Jensen for interfering with their National Geographic contract to produce an "archeological film concerning the burial cave in Jerusalem," the ruling says.

Jensen agreed to appear in the documentary as an expert on ancient Christian art, but she convinced Nat Geo not to air the film after becoming a panel consultant and being influenced by a "co-conspirator," the plaintiffs allege.

"The co-conspirator relayed to defendant Jensen 'a litany of unsubstantiated rumors about [plaintiff] Jacobovici.' Subsequently, defendant Jensen communicated through e-mails and telephone calls to 'National Geographic company officials and other National Geographic panel members' that she had 'second thoughts' about the documentary being aired," the ruling states, citing court documents. "Defendant Jensen also allegedly passed on the rumors to National Geographic officials and panel members. Plaintiffs allege that defendant Jensen used 'her position with Vanderbilt and her voice as a consultant to National Geographic' to 'put [plaintiffs] out of business.'"

Jacobovici and Associated Producers later sold the documentary to the Discovery Channel but they say that the release delay caused them financial harm and that they haven't work for Nat Geo since Jensen damaged their relationship with the company.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly tossed claims against Vanderbilt on Tuesday but denied Jensen's motion for dismissal or transfer. The court doesn't have jurisdiction over the university because it wasn't involved in the alleged contract interference, she ruled.

"The court finds that plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged an agency relationship between defendant Vanderbilt and defendant Jensen as relates to defendant Jensen's participation in the documentary project, much less her consulting work with National Geographic," the judge wrote.

But Jensen's consulting activity was directed at the District of Columbia and the court therefore has personal jurisdiction over the claims against her, the court ruled.

"The court agrees with plaintiffs that the consulting relationship between defendant Jensen and National Geographic was centered in the District of Columbia," Kollar-Kotelly wrote. "National Geographic is headquartered in the District of Columbia, and defendant Jensen traveled to the District to serve on the consulting panel. Even if it is reasonable to assume, as defendants argue, that defendant Jensen made her allegedly defamatory emails and telephone calls in Tennessee, it is also reasonable to assume that these emails and calls were directed at the District of Columbia since they were directed at National Geographic officials and National Geographic is headquartered in the District."

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