Selena producer Moctesuma Esparza has established a prima facie case that the father and sister of the late Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla violated a contract by licensing the singer’s life rights to Netflix. That’s according to a ruling out Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
In 1997, two years after Selena died of a gunshot at the age of 23, Warner Bros. released Selena in theaters. In the nearly quarter-century since, she has remained popular. In fact, she’s one of the best-selling artists in Latin music history. In 2020, Netflix released Selena: The Series, which looked at the singer’s early life. That series, starring Christian Serratos, has prompted litigation.
According to Esparza, he and Selena’s father, Abraham, established a joint venture in 1995 that would be assigned movie and television rights to Selena’s stories. The following year, that venture made deals with Warner Bros., which produced a film starring Jennifer Lopez as the title character.
Esparza alleges that the joint venture was to hold on to rights until the expiration of the copyright of the movie, while Selena’s family has insisted that a contract amendment had rights reverting back to the family. There appears to be a dispute over whether Warner Bros. had to consent to the reversion. Interestingly, there’s some indication from the court filings that when Warner Bros. learned of the Netflix series, it objected and soon achieved a settlement.
In any event, L.A. Superior Court Judge Maurice Leiter has now ruled that Esparza’s contract claim against the Quintanilla family has sufficient merit to overcome a motion aimed at quickly defeating plaintiff’s claim. The judge also accepts claims of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of fair dealing, unjust enrichment, negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment.
The family is at least successful in getting the judge to nix claims of tortious interference and misappropriation of publicity rights.
The judge’s ruling on those unsuccessful claims (read in full here) is likely a positive development for Netflix, which for now remains a co-defendant but is also challenging the basis of claims since it was hardly a party to dealmaking in the 1990s and insists every right to make a “highly transformative, biographical television series that involves a matter of public interest.”