The longtime attorney of Hollywood luminary Harold Ramis, renowned for onscreen and off-screen roles in producing, directing, writing and acting in such classic films as Ghostbusters, Animal House, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day and much more, has sued Ramis’ widow, claiming that, since Ramis’ death, she has wrongly cut him off from a continuing stream of income he is owed for his work in helping build Ramis’ film businesses.
In a complaint filed March 16 in Cook County Circuit Court, David B. Kahn, principal of Northfield-based David B. Kahn & Associates, said his firm had contracts with Ramis from early 1978 until the middle of 2010, when the writer-actor-director-producer fell ill and his second wife, Erica Mann Ramis, assumed control of his business affairs. Harold Ramis died in February 2014 at age 69.
“On March 25, 2011,” the complaint notes, “the corporations which Erica controlled ceased distributing to the plaintiffs the proceeds of their earned project interests,” behavior which, over five years, prompted him to also sue under claims for breach of fiduciary duty and tortious interference.
In addition to Ramis’ widow, Kahn and his firm named as defendants Harold Ramis Enterprises, Harold Ramis Films and Ocean Pictures, the Erica Mann Ramis Revocable Trust and the Harold Ramis Revocable Trust, co-trustee John Amboian and up to 10 as yet unidentified trustees. The complaint states that although Erica wed Harold in 1989, she was not involved in the disputed contracts until Harold became disabled in 2010.
Though Ramis and Kahn were college friends in the early 1960s, Ramis used a different firm to represent him on his writing contract for “Animal House.” That firm, which earned 5 percent of everything Ramis made for his writing work on that film, never contracted on another Ramis project and, unlike Kahn, continues to draw its percentage of earnings. Likewise, Kahn notes, none of the three agencies he connected with Ramis have been cut off from their 10 percent shares of earnings on relevant projects.
According to the complaint, Ramis called upon Kahn to act as his legal agent routinely from 1977-2010, and enlisted Kahn to oversee organization of his film companies, Harold Ramis Enterprises, Harold Ramis Films and Ocean Pictures, through which Ramis would “loan out” his services in any capacity to various entertainment projects. Ramis Enterprises, for instance, brought the world such films as Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Stripes and National Lampoon’s Vacation, while Ramis Films was instrumental in the creation such films as Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters 2. Ocean Pictures later added such titles as Multiplicity, Analyze This and Analyze That to Ramis’ portfolio.
Kahn said his deal with Ramis had a 60-day opt out clause for either side to terminate the relationship, though he asserted the deals called for Kahn’s firm to perpetually earn its 10 percent of Ramis’ gross take from the projects made while the deal was in effect..
Over their longstanding personal and professional relationship, Kahn also said he provided legal help to Ramis on a variety of personal matters, including for his relatives, at no additional cost. And although Kahn maintains Erica Ramis had little or no involvement in managing her husband’s business affairs while he was alive and healthy, “Erica had dealings with David over (more than 20) years and, at various times, demonstrated her discomfort with the depth of David’s personal and professional relationship with Harold. This animus was displayed more often and more forcefully as time passed.”
After Harold Ramis’ illness, Erica Ramis cut off communications between her husband and Kahn, the complaint said. In 2011, she advised Kahn his firm would no longer represent Ramis’ and directed his inquiries to an accounting firm. Kahn maintains he waited several years to file his complaint in deference to Ramis’ grave illness “and in further deference to Erica’s mourning period.”
Kahn estimated he is owed at least $500,000, subject to 5 percent simple interest. In addition to a jury trial, he has requested punitive damages with interest.
Representing Kahn and his firm are Alan J. Mandel and Joseph E. Tighe, of Alan J. Mandel Ltd., Skokie.