Ne-Yo loses lawsuit filed after he failed to show for Seattle-area gig

Arundel judge orders R&B artist, booking agency to pay promoter more than $156,000 in total damages

August 25, 2010|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

The Grammy-winning R&B artist Ne-Yo could feel a few dollars lighter after losing a lawsuit filed against him by a concert promoter in suburban Seattle.

Ne-Yo, who was sued under his real name, Shaffer C. Smith, failed to show up for a New Year's Eve gig in 2008 and cost the stranded promoter about a quarter of a million dollars, the plaintiff's lawyer said Wednesday, a day after a judge in Annapolis found Ne-Yo and his booking agent liable for part of the loss.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Philip T. Caroom ordered Ne-Yo and the booking agency, Esterman Entertainment, to pay $131,629 in compensatory damages and other costs to the event's promoter, Kenyohn Clark. The judge also ordered the agency's owner, Mike Esterman, to pay an additional $24,450 in punitive damages to Clark, a decorated 30-year-old Army veteran of the Iraq war who had booked USO tours while in the service.

Brian D. Lyman, an attorney in Annapolis who represents Esterman and his booking company, said Wednesday that his client was "weighing his options" and determining whether a settlement could be reached before he proceeds to file an appeal. Esterman, who describes himself on his website as "agent to the stars," claims as clients Antonio Sabato Jr., Carmen Electra, Corey Feldman, Danny Bonaduce, LL Cool J and several hip-hop DJs, among others.

John A. Scaldara, an Owings Mills-based lawyer who represented Ne-Yo during a four-day trial that concluded on Aug. 2, did not respond to a request for comment.

Before the case went to court, the various parties agreed that any legal action would be heard in Anne Arundel County, where Esterman was based at the time his client agreed to be the main attraction at the New Year's Eve party at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, Wash., in 2008. Clark said in his lawsuit that he had wired $95,000 — pooled from his military pay and loans from relatives — to Esterman to secure Ne-Yo's appearance, and that the singer's total fee would be $140,000.

About 1,500 tickets to the event were sold, according to the lawsuit, with patrons paying from $125 for basic admission to $1,275 for a so-called platinum VIP package. Clark also paid for first-class airline tickets for Ne-Yo, as well as hotel rooms, said Jason C. Brino, a lawyer with the Towson firm Bowie & Jensen who is representing Clark.

On Dec. 31, 2008, the day of the event, Clark received a text message from a travel agent saying that Ne-Yo, traveling from Nigeria, had been delayed and would not arrive in Seattle on time for the event. In a message to Esterman, Ne-Yo's manager, TiShawn Gayle, asked whether the concert could be rescheduled for February or March.

Since the event was due to start in a matter of hours, Clark hastily attempted to book a replacement act and settled on another R&B singer, Mya, but ultimately she could not arrive in time either, the lawsuit said.

When his plane landed in Atlanta, Ne-Yo recorded a so-called "audio drop" for the crowd in Bellevue that said, "Hi, this is Ne-Yo — sorry I couldn't make it," and it was played at about 11:30 p.m., the suit said. The crowd immediately began "booing, making noise and cursing," and Clark was advised by an off-duty police officer to leave the ballroom for his own safety.

"He refunded everyone who asked for a refund," said Brino, Clark's lawyer, who added that such was the anger over the failed New Year's Eve party that Clark's life was threatened and his home in Kent, another Seattle suburb, vandalized. "He was more or less driven out of town. He was investigated by the attorney general of Washington. It was bad."

Eventually, Brino said, his client, in need of a job, returned to the Middle East, working for a time as a contractor for Lockheed Martin Corp. in Afghanistan.

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