The main production company behind Rust will not have to face the central claims in a lawsuit from script supervisor Mamie Mitchell.
A Los Angeles judge Friday dismissed claims of sexual assault and willful infliction of emotional distress against Rust Movie Productions, Thomasville Pictures, Ryan Smith and Lengley Cheney, because they did not know Alec Baldwin would actually fire the gun that killed cameraman Halyna Hutchins.
Since shooting, the producers have maintained that they were not responsible for overseeing production. They have argued in civil court and in challenging a fine set by the New Mexico Security Commission that they simply financed the film.
So far, Mitchell has had an uphill battle in court, arguing that the production companies are liable for the shooting. She claims they helped and incited Baldwin to commit an attack by giving him the loaded gun that the actor fired, and describes a disastrous safety culture on the set of Rust where producers shied away from industry-wide standards regarding the use of guns to make the film on a shoestring budget. In July, LA Superior Court judge Michael Whitaker refused to allow claims of sexual assault and willful infliction of emotional distress against producer Anjul Nigam and his loan company, Brittany House Pictures, because the gun discharge “unexpectedly ” used to be.
Mitchell’s claims against Rust Movie Productions met the same fate, according to a preliminary judge’s ruling.
While Plaintiff alleges that objecting defendants assisted Baldwin in supplying the loaded weapon, Plaintiff’s allegations fail to establish that objectors knew that Baldwin would aim and fire the loaded weapon at Plaintiff so that they jointly liable for his willful conduct,” he wrote. “In fact, the prosecution’s allegations would show the opposite to be true: The only person who knew Baldwin would fire the weapon was Baldwin.”
Under New Mexico law, Mitchell was required to assert sufficiently that the production companies knew that Baldwin would fire the gun at Mitchell and that they were giving him substantial help or encouragement to do so. Her lawyers urged the court to allow discovery on the matter.
At a hearing on Friday, Whitaker declined to distance himself from his preliminary ruling. He explained that there is no evidence that Rust Movie Productions had “knowledge that Baldwin would use the firearm the way he did by firing it.”
Both sides agree that the scene did not call for the cocking and firing of a pistol, which was handed to Baldwin in violation by assistant director Dave Halls rather than gun master Hannah Gutierrez-Reed – who was responsible for checking that the rooms were empty – in violation of industrial safety protocols. The protocols also state that firearms should always be treated as if they were loaded.
Carlos Hernandez, who represents Mitchell, argued that the producers should have anticipated the fatal shooting because they knew there were loaded guns on the set.
“They had that knowledge,” he said. “They were aware of that and facilitated its use in violation of the law in New Mexico. It’s kind of unique because of the factual allegations here. They are not typical of helping and inciting abuse.”
Whitaker replied that the arguments are only relevant to Mitchell’s negligence claim. He concluded: “The train must leave the station. We have to move on with the lawsuit.”