Judge Dismisses AT&T Suit Against Max Retrans

A federal judge dismissed with prejudice a six-month old lawsuit filed by AT&T against Max Retrans, adding that the broadcast TV consultant headed by former Nexstar Media chief operating officer Duane Lammers did not violate a 2016 non-disclosure agreement.

The original suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in July, claimed that Max Retrans violated a non disclosure agreement it signed with AT&T in 2016, where it pledged not to disclose to third parties any sensitive information it became privy to when it had represented the telco in retrans deals.

According to the dismissal document filed with the court on Jan. 16, Max Retrans had earlier represented 11 stations -- whose names were redacted -- in a 2016 retrans negotiation. When those agreements came up for renewal in 2019, Max Retrans continued to represent the stations. AT&T had informed the consultant that its 2016 NDA was still in effect, to which Max retrans agreed.

AT&T claimed that in representing the stations in the renewal, Max Retrans used information, mainly rate data, which the telco claimed fell under the NDA.

In the dismissal document, U.S. Magistrate Judge Noelle Collins wrote that the definition of the term “third party” in the NDA was critical, adding AT&T’s assumption that the deal would prevent stations negotiating jointly would be unable to share information would render the agreement “nonsensical.”

“Each of the ten station groups at issue here were parties to a single joint negotiation and thus not ‘third parties’ under the NDA,” Collins wrote. “At no point in Plaintiffs’ Complaint do Plaintiffs suggest that Lammers was negotiating exclusively on behalf of the [redacted] station group or any of the other station groups. Indeed, the Complaint is replete with allegations to the contrary.”

The stations in question were redacted in the suit, although it was revealed that nine of them went dark prior to the suit being filed. According to some sources familiar with the negotiations, Lammers represented about 20 stations that were locked in retrans disputes with AT&T and went dark on May 31. They subsequently reached agreements with AT&T after the Federal Communications Commission determined they were not negotiating with the telco in good faith.

AT&T had been seeking compensatory damages, including lost subscriber revenue caused by Max Retrans’ breaches of contract and its misappropriation of AT&T’s trade secrets.

“We’re reviewing the ruling and considering our options,” AT&T said in a statement concerning the dismissal.