Fox Must Face Lawsuit for Filming ‘Empire’ at Detention Center
A lawsuit alleging Twentieth Century Fox Television encouraged Cook County officials to shut down several important areas of a juvenile detention center during the filming of its hit show Empire, causing detriment to the inmates, is set to move forward. The ruling was handed down by U.S. District Judge Amy J. St. Eve.
In order to adequately depict Lucious Lyon’s time in jail several scenes were filmed at the center in 2015 during which time the facility was placed on lockdown. Normally, a center would not be on lockdown unless there was a suspected security breach. Yet, on three separate occasions several areas, including the school, family visiting area, outdoor recreation yard, library, and chapel, were “placed off limits so that Fox’s agents and employees could use them to stage and film the show.”
During this time, inmates were either forced to remain in their cells or confined to small rooms called “pods” where they were forced to sit “for days on end.” The lawsuit claims the confinement was “more severe than those governing many adult jails.” Family visitations were canceled, as well as rehabilitation sessions and previously scheduled schooling.
The two scenes filmed included a cameo appearance by comedian Chris Rock. They were popular and profitable. Highly publicized, a thirty-second advertising spot during the first episode cost $750,000, while a spot during the second cost $600,000.
Fox sought dismissal of the class-action lawsuit, which was filed by legal guardians of two of the center’s inmates in August 2016. The network claimed it was not responsible for the lockdowns. St. Eve dismissed a claim that Fox infringed on the inmate’s due process rights, but ultimately agreed that the network may be liable for “tortious inducement of breach of fiduciary duties,” as specified in the amended filing.
“Despite the Fox Defendants’ arguments to the contrary, in their new allegations, Plaintiffs add more factual details as to how the Fox Defendants induced the breach of fiduciary duty,” the judge’s order stated. “Plaintiffs, for example, allege that the Fox Defendants induced the breach by offering to pay rent for the JTDC and wages and overtime for JTDC staff. Plaintiffs further allege that the Fox Defendants made their offers on the condition that the JTDC’s administrators would change the facility’s normal operations to make the second and third floors of the JTDC available for filming of the television show. In addition, Plaintiffs state that the JTDC’s administrators accepted the Fox Defendants’ inducements, and the Fox Defendants reached an agreement with the County Defendants for Empire’s film crew to film at the JTDC. Viewing these allegations and all reasonable inferences as true, Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that the Fox Defendants induced the County Defendants to breach their fiduciary duty.”
In dismissing the due process claim, the judge wrote that the Plaintiffs “have not plausibly alleged that the Fox Defendants and any state actor had an agreement to deny Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights or that the Fox Defendants and a state actor had a common, unconstitutional goal. Rather, Plaintiffs’ allegations suggest that the Fox Defendants were aware that their desire to film Empire at the JTDC conflicted with the juvenile detainees’ needs. At best, Plaintiffs have alleged that the Fox Defendants sought to enter into an agreement that would induce the administrators to exclude children from the JTDC’s second and third floors and that all of the Defendants knew that filming Empire would result in restrictions on the children. Although the result of this alleged agreement may have deprived Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights, Plaintiffs’ allegations do not support the inference that the state and private actors shared an unconstitutional goal in the first instance.”