Activision Blizzard KO’s Manuel Noriega in “Call of Duty” Lawsuit

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP won an important victory for Activision Blizzard Inc. and other developers of creative content. In an Oct. 27, 2014 ruling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William H. Fahey dismissed, with prejudice, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega’s lawsuit against Activision over his depiction in the popular videogame “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” The former dictator − now serving a prison sentence in Panama following his conviction for drug trafficking, money laundering and killing political opponents − had argued that the 2012 video game damaged his reputation.

Judge Fahey’s ruling came in response to a motion filled by Munger Tolles and co-counsel on Sept. 22 on behalf of Activision. In the motion, counsel argued that the game’s depiction of a Noriega character is protected by a California law enacted to protect freedom of speech against spurious lawsuits.

In his order, Judge Fahey wrote, “This court concludes that Noriega’s right of publicity is outweighed by defendants’ First Amendment right to free expression.” The ruling means that Noriega is barred from further action against Activision.

Activision described the game as historical fiction and said Noriega’s lawsuit could have had far-reaching consequences if it had proceeded. “In the unlikely event the lawsuit had been permitted to proceed, Noriega’s efforts could have provided numerous historical and political figures a veto right over their appearances in works of art, having a chilling effect on” a variety of creative content, according to a press release issued by Activision.

The Munger Tolles team includes Kelly M. Klaus, Carolyn Hoecker Luedtke, Brad D. Brian, Justin P. Raphael, William J. Edelman and Bobby Gray.