Cable network A&E sought to portray local real estate investor Richard C. Davis as someone who came to believe wrongly that he and the network had an oral agreement to split the profits from the reality television show "Flip This House."
But a federal jury didn't buy it, saying Davis' interpretation of the business relationship wasn't so far-fetched.
The 12-member panel unanimously awarded Davis and his James Island-based Trademark Properties Inc. more than $4 million in damages in the breach of contract trial that wrapped up this week.
The jurors spent at least five hours in deliberations before reaching their verdict Wednesday afternoon in a downtown Charleston courtroom.
Davis put his right hand over his eyes and sobbed from his chair upon hearing the decision. His employees and reality TV co-stars Ginger Alexander and Dawn Nosal cried together from the second row behind him Davis' attorney, Frank Cisa, argued in his closing remarks that his client should receive more than $7.5 million in damages from three seasons of "Flip This House." Only the show's first season, in which Davis was credited as a creator, featured him and his Trademark Properties team. After splitting with A&E, the crew joined competing network TLC for the series "The Real Deal."
Before dismissing them, U.S. District Court Judge C. Weston Houck asked the jurors to itemize the damages they awarded Davis.
"To give us just a little idea of how you arrived at that figure," Houck said.
Minutes later they returned with a breakdown: more than $3.9 million, or half the net profit from the first season; and nearly $108,000 in international revenue.
Davis would not comment immediately following the verdict and could not be reached later in the day. Cisa made only brief statements after the trial concluded.
"I'm very pleased with the verdict," Cisa said. "It was a tough case. It's very tough to prove you had an oral contract with a major network."
Attorneys for A&E declined to comment, but a network spokesman said the case is not over.
"We're deeply disappointed in the jury's decision, and we plan to follow the appropriate steps to get the verdict reversed," said Michael Feeney, senior vice president of corporate communications.
The trial began Nov. 3, and jury deliberations began late Monday. Federal court was closed Tuesday for Veterans Day, and deliberations resumed Wednesday.
A&E's attorneys asked Houck to dismiss the case early on, which could conceivably be the basis for a request to reverse the verdict, said Charleston School of Law professor Gerald Finkel.
A&E could argue that Houck should have granted the dismissal at the close of Cisa's evidence, before the case was allowed to go to the jury, Finkel said.
He said the defense has ten days to make such a filing, which is a precursor to an appeal.