Virgin Sues Lizzo, Endeavor In COVID-19 Force Majeure Row

By Hannah Albarazi
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Law360 (July 17, 2020, 8:34 PM EDT) -- Virgin Fest Los Angeles sued talent agency William Morris Endeavor, along with musicians Lizzo, Kali Uchis and Ellie Goulding, in Los Angeles Superior Court Thursday, seeking to recover prepaid deposits after California's novel coronavirus stay-at-home order caused the festival's June 2020 debut to be canceled.

The Virgin Mobile-sponsored festival had been scheduled to make its debut the first weekend of June, but as the pandemic grew worse and large gatherings became prohibited, it was canceled due to a force majeure, says festival organizer VFLA Eventco LLC — which does business as Virgin Fest and is the music festival arm of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

All of the other artist agencies returned, or agreed to return, the full amount of the prepaid deposits for the performances, VFLA said.

"However, [William Morris Endeavor] refused to return the deposits and insisted that the artists it represents are entitled to keep the deposits — even if the COVID-19 pandemic constituted a force majeure event, even if the governmental orders prevented the festival from proceeding, and even if those orders likewise made it unlawful for their artists to perform on the dates and at the times and places specified in their agreements with VFLA," the music festival company says in its complaint.

The organizers say William Morris Endeavor, or Endeavor, contends it didn't have to return the deposits because the artists were "otherwise ready, willing and able to perform."

But a force majeure provision in the agreements signed with the artists required that the deposits be returned if the festival did not happen due to an uncontrollable factor, the organizers say.

The pandemic is such an event, the Virgin Fest Los Angeles organizers say.

"After the government prevented the festival from proceeding, VFLA invoked the force majeure provision of the artists' performance agreements and demanded the return in full of the prepaid deposits made in connection with those agreements," the festival organizers say.

The governor of California proclaimed a state of emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic on March 12. Roughly two months later, on May 8, the organizers say they received a letter from the City of Los Angeles' deputy mayor stating the city would not allow the festival to proceed as scheduled due to the emergency.

Organizers of Virgin Fest Los Angeles publicly canceled the festival on May 9 and promised refunds to ticket holders.

The organizer's suit also names three producer defendants: Starry US Touring Inc., which is the music touring business for Ellie Goulding; Kali Uchis Touring Inc., which is the touring business of Kali Uchis; and Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc., the touring business of the musician Lizzo.

For the three producer defendants, VFLA is seeking damages for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Against Endeavor, VFLA is seeking damages and punitive damages for conversion, the return of money that Endeavor is refusing to return, and restitution and injunctive relief.

The parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.

VFLA Eventco LLC is represented by Harvey W. Geller and Steven B. Weisburd of Carlton Fields LLP.

Counsel information for defendants could not immediately be determined Friday afternoon.

The case is VFLA Eventco LLC v. William Morris Endeavor Entertainment LLC et al., case number 20SMCV00933, in the State Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles.

--Editing by Philip Shea.

Update: The story has been updated with a case number.

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