California Court of Appeal Upholds $15 Million Default Judgment in Favor of Venable Client

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On July 26, 2021, a three-judge Court of Appeal panel affirmed the default judgment against hip-hop and R&B producer Noel "Detail" Fisher in a suit accusing him of sexually assaulting Venable client Kristina Buch seven times over a 17-month period ending in May 2018.

Buch, a model and aspiring singer, started to work with Fisher in 2016 to help launch her then-promising recording career. After Buch recorded eight songs with Fisher, he began a persistent campaign of sexual assault and emotional abuse against her. In May 2018, Buch and another musician, Peyton Ackley, both revealed the assaults by Fisher and received restraining orders against him. Since the original complaints were filed in 2018, numerous other artists have come forward with their own revelations of abuse by Fisher.

The decision in Los Angeles Superior Court held that Fisher repeatedly attacked Buch, and subjected her to sexual assault and battery, sexual harassment, gender violence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The trial court allowed service of the complaint to be effected via publication after a private investigator hired by the plaintiff failed to locate Fisher's whereabouts despite multiple efforts to do so.

On appeal, Fisher argued the default judgment should be set aside because he had been unaware of the lawsuit and only learned about it from a friend who had read an article about the judgment. The panel disagreed, however, saying there was sufficient evidence showing Fisher willfully evaded service of the complaint, and he had actual knowledge of it. The appeals court also turned aside Fisher's argument that the $10 million punitive damages award was excessive, saying the entry of default judgment precludes him from contesting the merits of the case.

Venable partners William Briggs and Matt Gurvitz represented Buch in the case. Mr. Briggs told Law360 he and his client were pleased that the appeals court affirmed the judgment. "This is one chapter in this horrible saga that is now closed," he said.

Click here to access the Law360 article.