Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Squabble Over ‘Sahara’ Flop Comes to an End

(CN) - Producers who lost money on the big-screen adaptation of the novel "Sahara" cannot pursue claims that they were misled as to Clive Cussler's readership, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled.

In buying the rights to Cussler's 1992 novel, Bristol Bay Productions had envisioned a franchise in the vein of "Indiana Jones," starring Matthew McConaughey as their hero Dirk Pitt. At the time the company went by the name Crusader Entertainment.

Though the film version of "Sahara" earned a reasonable $122 million at the box office in 2005, that figure failed to make a dent against the roughly $240 million eaten up by production and distribution.

Parties involved with the film found themselves in court before it even hit theaters.

While Cussler was suing Bristol Bay in California over screenplay approval, the production company learned that the author's fan base was smaller than it thought.

Bristol Bay Productions then countersued for fraud, claiming that Cussler had pegged book sales of "Sahara" at 100 million when the figure was closer to 40 million.

It said the lie cost it $50 million.

A California jury ultimately found that Cussler had misrepresented his readership but that Bristol Bay's reliance on the sales figures did not cause the movie's losses.

Bristol Bay meanwhile had a similar lawsuit pending in Colorado against Cussler's literary agent, Peter Lampack, and his publishers at Simon & Shuster and Penguin.

Around the time that a California appeals court refused to revive Bristol Bay's case against Cussler in 2010, the trial judge in Colorado dismissed the action there under preclusion grounds.

The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed, and a four-justice majority of the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed on Monday.

"We hold that Bristol Bay's Colorado action is barred on issue preclusion grounds because the identity of the defendants in this case is not relevant to the causation element Bristol Bay must prove to prevail on its fraud and fraud-based claims," Chief Justice Michael Bender wrote for the majority.

The three dissenting justices said the filmmakers should be able to make a claim against Penguin and Simon & Schuster, though the claims against Lampack are clearly precluded.

"The California jury never addressed whether Bristol Bay relied on any misrepresentations made by the publishers, nor did it address whether any such reliance caused Bristol Bay to suffer damages," according to the dissent penned by Justice Nancy Rice.

"The Colorado trial court, then, could find that even though Cussler, Lampack and the publishers allegedly made nearly identical misrepresentations, the publishers' misrepresentations caused Bristol Bay to act in a way that resulted in its damages even though the misrepresentations by Cussler and Lampack did not," Rice added.

Penelope Cruz and Steve Zahn co-starred in "Sahara."

A California appeals court finally called the dispute between Cussler and Bristol Bay a draw in late 2012.

Cussler meanwhile initiated two new actions just this month unrelated to the "Sahara." In Los Angeles, the author alleges that others are misrepresenting themselves as the owners of his work. In Denver, he says his own children are keeping him as an "indentured servant who must continue to write 'works made for hire' in order to have an income."

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.