The Court of Appeals of Tennessee in Nashville on Tuesday upheld a November 2011 Chancery Court ruling that denied Curb Record's request for a preliminary injunction that would prevent Tim McGraw from signing with another record company.
The court fully affirmed what Chancellor Russell Perkins ruled in November, basically, that McGraw was free to leave his contract with Curb and record under another label. McGraw signed with Big Machine Records in May.
The ruling could finally bring to an end the long and complicated case centered on whether or not McGraw has fulfilled his contractual obligations to Curb.
"The Court of Appeals has affirmed the Chancellor's ruling that Tim McGraw is now finished with being an artist on Curb Records," McGraw attorney Bill Ramsey of Neal & Harwell in Nashville tells Billboard.biz. "He's now a Big Machine artist and he is no longer a Curb artist."
Speaking with Billboard.biz Wednesday, John Unger of Bowen & Unger, the firm representing Curb, said: "It is important to note that Curb Records has never done anything that it was not entitled to do, nor has it failed to do anything that it was required to do, under the terms of its contract with Tim McGraw. This is borne out by the fact that in his counterclaim McGraw never alleges that Curb breached the recording contract by releasing 'Greatest Hits' albums or by failing to release 'Emotional Traffic.'"
A press release issued by Curb Wednesday reads in part: "The fundamental issue in this case is whether Tim McGraw fully performed under his contract with Curb Records. That issue has yet to be ruled on by any court, and will be the subject of a full trial on the merits scheduled for later this year. As to that fundamental issue, however, the Court of Appeals in its ruling yesterday reiterated the earlier sentiment expressed by the trial court that Curb Records has shown some likelihood of success on its breach of contract claims, and that Curb Records will be entitled to seek to recover compensatory damages from Mr. McGraw at the upcoming trial.
"The only legal effect of the ruling by the Court of Appeals yesterday was to affirm the trial court's earlier decision that one of the remedies requested by Curb Records against Mr. McGraw, injunctive relief (i.e., a ruling by the court preventing Mr. McGraw from recording elsewhere until he had fully performed under his recording agreement with Curb Records), was not appropriate under the particular facts and circumstances of this case. We respectfully disagree with today's ruling by the Court of Appeals on that issue, and we intend to continue to pursue this issue, including through the further appeals process as appropriate, in light of the significance of the underlying principles involved."
Later Wednesday, Ramsey responded: "In response to the lengthy press release of Curb Records, Mr. McGraw and his counsel need only refer to the rulings of the Trial Court and the Court of Appeals. Those rulings are very clear and speak for themselves."
The Curb/McGraw dispute dates back to May of 2011 when Curb Records filed a breach of contract suit in Davidson County Chancery Court against McGraw in relation to McGraw's recording agreement with label. Eleven days later, McGraw filed a counter suit against Curb seeking advance payment and recording-fund reimbursement, unspecified damages, and a jury trial. McGraw's counter-suit also asked that McGraw's "Emotional Traffic" album be deemed his last album due to the label and for the singer to be "free to begin recording for himself or any other party as of July 23, 2011."
Curb alleged in its original complaint that McGraw's tracks for the "Emotional Traffic," released in January, were recorded too early prior to its delivery "in a transparent tactic to attempt to fulfill his contractual recording commitment to Curb prematurely in breach of the recording agreement." McGraw's counter suit countered that the material for "Traffic" was recorded and mastered in early 2009-2010, and Curb was holding the album "hostage from country music fans for the purpose of compelling Tim McGraw to serve perpetually under a contract that he has already fully and faithfully completed."
The suit added that Curb's "repeated serial releases of what it characterizes as greatest hits albums is obviously a naked attempt to create a perpetual recording contract, forcing Tim McGraw into a repressive environment of indefinite duration."
Curb has maintained throughout that McGraw is still a Curb recording artist, stating through its publicist in June that: "Tim McGraw is still an artist on the Curb Records' label; Big Machine had no right to sign Tim McGraw until his contract with Curb Records is over; the new music advertised by Tim McGraw and Big Machine, or that Big Machine may choose to release before the Court ruling, is still owned by Curb Records; and when the Court does rule, it will agree that Tim McGraw has breached his Recording Agreement with Curb Records."
McGraw, his management company Red Light, and his attorneys, have held steadfast in supporting their belief that McGraw is done with Curb. And in May it was announced that McGraw had not only signed with Scott Borchetta's Big Machine Records, but that 20 tracks had been cut. One of them, "Truck, Yeah," was a summer hit performed by McGraw on the recently concluded Brothers of the Sun tour with Kenny Chesney. A Big Machine record from McGraw is set for release in February, and, while Curb believes any tracks recorded would be for a Curb album, Tuesday's appellate court decision states otherwise.
Well before the lawyers stepped in, McGraw had long expressed his unhappiness at Curb, his only label home for 20 years, until he signed with Big Machine. McGraw's dissatisfaction with the label has been well documented, much of it centered on McGraw's belief that Curb had repackaged his hits too many times, having released at least four collections since 2006.
But the opinion issued Tuesday states, "all recordings made after December 1, 2011, belong to McGraw," as well as, "We find no error in the trial court's preliminary determination regarding the ownership of masters." And, in conclusion, "We affirm the judgment of the trial court and assess the costs of this appeal against the appellant, Curb Records."
There is no basis for a federal appeal by Curb, but the label could request the Tennessee Supreme Court for the right to appeal, which the Tennessee Supreme could deny.
Curb attorney Jay Bowen could not immediately be reached for comment.