NJ Court Overturns $1.1M Verdict in Suit Against Fetty Wap Label

The New Jersey Superior Court’s Appellate Division has overturned a $1.1 million verdict against the record label for rapper Fetty Wap partly because the plaintiff’s lawyer violated the “golden rule doctrine.”

Fetty WapPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

RGF Productions’ lawyer had argued that the attorney for plaintiff Shawna Morgan violated the doctrine when he asked jurors to put themselves in his client’s shoes when awarding damages. RGF’s lawyer moved for a mistrial, but one was not granted. The appellate court announced in an unpublished April 26 opinion that it should have been and ordered a new trial on damages.

Morgan had alleged that she was owed compensation when she was fired, and the record company defamed her a in a press release as well as in information leaked to entertainment website, TMZ. She was awarded more than $66,000 for breach of contract, $980,000 for defamation and more than $120,000 in prejudgment interest in February of 2020.

Morgan was initially hired to perform administrative duties for Wap. These duties included booking tours and shows, even though she was not a licensed book agent.

According to court documents, Morgan started off receiving a commission for booking shows and then a flat fee of $2,500 per show. She claims over time the payments and reimbursements stopped, followed by her firing in April 2017.

An RGF Productions press release claimed Morgan had been fired for falsely representing herself as a booking agent and charging additional fees to venues that booked Fetty Wap, a practice known as “double dipping.” TMZ produced a story in August 2017 reporting on similar allegations.

At the close of the trial, the plaintiff’s lawyer told jurors, “I implore you to think about how you would feel in her position and to be generous in assigning a dollar value to that pain and suffering. If it’s easier, think about how you would feel if it happened to someone that you care about.”

The golden rule is based on the age-old principle that “you should do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you,” the appeals court explained.

“It is improper for an attorney to invoke this rule because it tends to encourage ‘the jury to depart from neutrality and to decide the case on the basis of personal interest and bias rather than on the evidence,’” the appeals court said, citing another case. “A golden rule argument suggests to jurors that they should ‘adopt what they would want as compensation for injury, pain and suffering.’”

The trial judge refused to grant the defense’s motion for a mistrial but also failed to give jurors a curative instruction, the appeals court said.

“Since the trial judge directed jurors to deliberate free from bias and sympathy but gave no explicit curative instruction to ameliorate counsel’s repeated references to the golden rule,” the appeals court said, “we cannot conclude the jury’s award of damages did not flow from plaintiff’s prejudicial appeal.”

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