Daughter of late Rev. Robt Schuller sues over property/props from a play she wrote and defendants produced in 2005. Defense verdict. Orange County.

Summary

Property from a 2005 stage play at the Crystal Cathedral remains in storage trailers for years. Plaintiff, who wrote the play, claims emotional injury from it being damaged.  

The Case

  • Case Name: Carol Schuller Milner v. Irvine Presbyterian Church dba The Crystal Cathedral and Crystal Cathedral Ministries
  • Court and Case Number: Orange County Superior Court / 30-2017-00954144-CU-MC-CJC
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Tuesday, November 02, 2021
  • Date Action was Filed: Thursday, May 09, 2019
  • Type of Action: Breach of Contract, Highlighted Verdicts
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Deborah Servino
  • Plaintiffs:
    Carol Schuller Milner
  • Defendants:
    Irvine Presbyterian Church dba The Crystal Cathedral
    Crystal Cathedral Ministries
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: Defense verdict
  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 10 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 hours
  • Jury Polls: 11-1 on Breach of contract; 10-2 on Conversion.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: None.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Law Offices of Harold Light by Hal Light and Bruce Gilbert, El Segundo.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Meyers Fozi & Dwork, LLP by Golnar Fozi, Jeremy Dwork and Daniel Modafferi, Carlsbad.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Thomas McClain, entertainment industry production.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Edward Testo, personal property appraisal.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff is the daughter of the late Rev. Robert Schuller, founder of The Crystal Cathedral and Crystal Cathedral Ministries, which have since merged/affiliated with the Irvine Presbyterian Church. In/about 2004, defendants authorized the production of a play entitled “The Glory of Creation,” which was written and produced by plaintiff. The budget for the play was $15,000,000. The play ran for 82 performances in the summer of 2005, and has never been presented by defendants (or any other organizations) since. The play generated a single season financial loss for defendants of at least $13,000,000.

    When Plaintiff was notified by defendants that the play was to be canceled, she engaged legal counsel and advanced potential legal claims against defendants. In order to resolve their differences, plaintiff and defendants entered into a settlement agreement in July 2006. The settlement called for, among other things, plaintiff to take ownership and possession of certain show-specific property used to mount the Creation play. At the time, all such property was being stored in either a warehouse or seven large storage trailers. Despite taking ownership of this property in 2006, plaintiff never inventoried, inspected or contributed to the storage/maintenance of this property for the next 13 years. Moreover, despite repeated demands by defendants as early as 2012 for plaintiff to take possession of her property, plaintiff refused and instead demanded defendants continue to store her show-related belongings.

    In/about 2018, after more than 12 years of plaintiff refusing to retrieve her property, plaintiff and defendants engaged in settlement discussions regarding the property. As part of those discussions, offers were made for plaintiff to take possession of the property as well as defendants’ trailers in exchange for a release. Plaintiff refused and claimed that the demand for a release constituted conversion. She then sued defendants for breach of contract, conversion and negligence.

    In/about 2019, plaintiff finally inspected the show-specific property being stored in defendants’ trailers. Upon completing her inspection, she alleged certain property was either damaged or missing after having been maintained in storage trailers for 13 years. Plaintiff thereafter developed an inventory of allegedly damaged or missing property, which she claimed to be worth in excess of $3,500,000. She also alleged that the loss/damage to her property deprived her of remounting the show, which had not run since 2005.

    Before trial, defendants successfully moved for summary judgment of plaintiff’s negligence claim, leaving only conversion and breach of contract for resolution at trial.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff alleged more than $3,500,000 in loss/damage to personal property which was comprised of assets related to the production of a play in 2005 entitled "The Glory of Creation."

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    At trial, evidence was presented that after defendants canceled the play in 2005, they stored plaintiff’s property in the same manner they stored their own property. Evidence was further presented that, despite defendants’ belief that they had no obligation to store plaintiff’s property, they did so at great expense for nearly 16 years. Multiple witnesses testified that despite financial hardships confronting defendants, plaintiff’s property remained safely stored at multiple properties for years, without plaintiff once contributing to the cost of storage, and without plaintiff once inspecting the property until 2018.

    With respect to the alleged value of plaintiff’s property, defendants presented expert appraisal testimony that the property was devoid of value not long after the cancellation of the play. Expert testimony concluded that the significant financial losses attributable to the show, the show-specific customization of the property, and the obsolescence of much of the items all contributed to a fair market value of $0. 

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Hand injury and emotional distress: Plaintiff claimed she suffered from emotional distress from her property losses that drove her to become angry and smash a coffee mug, cutting her hand.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $999,999 in April 2020.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $25,000 in December 2019.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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