Disney Owes $240M for Stealing Ideas

The Walt Disney Company stole ideas for a sports complex from two businessmen and should pay $240 million in damages, a six-member jury ruled today.

Nicholas Stracick, Edward Russell and their company, All Pro Sports Camps, accused Disney of fraud, theft of trade secrets, breaking an implied contract and breaching a confidential relationship. (Disney is the parent company of ABCNEWS.com.)

Disney executives denied using anybody else’s ideas for the Wide World of Sports complex, the spring training home of the Atlanta Braves, at Walt Disney World.

“Disney is an honorable company,” Louis Meisinger, the company’s general counsel, said Wednesday outside court. “We don’t steal other people’s ideas.”

Defining the Scope The judge severely limited the scope of what jurors could consider by adopting jury instructions that said the architecture, site plan and business plan for the sports complex were not copied from All Pro and could not be considered.

All Pro claimed 88 similarities between its plans and the Disney complex and documented more than 200 telephone calls with Disney executives.

Stracick, a retired baseball umpire from Buffalo, N.Y., and Russell, an architect from Fonthill, Ontario, testified they pitched their idea for a sports complex to Disney officials in the late 1980s.

Four years after Disney officials rejected their plans in 1989, the company announced it would build a $100 million complex. It opened in 1997.

One alternate juror, dismissed from the case before deliberations began because he wasn’t needed on the jury, said he would have decided against Disney and awarded the full request of $1.4 billion in damages to teach the entertainment giant a lesson.

Jimmy Johnson Jr., a 35-year-old truck driver, questioned the testimony of Disney executives, particularly architect Wing Chao, who claimed they knew nothing of Stracick and Russell’s plans. Johnson said Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner appeared evasive in his videotaped deposition played in the five-week trial.

“I found most of the Disney executives to be less than forthcoming,” Johnson said.