Legal Breakdowns Of The Hottest Entertainment & Celebrity Drama
On February 18th, an Illinois federal judge dismissed a $3 billion royalty lawsuit filed against PepsiCo, Inc. and others brought by the heirs of the actress who played Aunt Jemima. According to the suit, two great-grandchildren of Anna S. Harrington, Dannez W. Hunter and Larnell Evans, Jr., brought an action against Pepsi and its subsidiary, The Quaker Oats Co., for the use of Harrington’s likeness in advertisements and logos and made claims that “racial discrimination played a role in Quaker’s decision not to pay her or her estate a percentage of sales for Aunt Jemima pancake mix and related products.”
In the suit, the plaintiffs sought $2 billion in damages and also $1 billion in equity stock from PepsiCo and co-defendants Pinnacle Foods Co and Hillshire Brands Co. The lawsuit is derived from a claim that Quaker Oats purportedly made a promise to pay Harrington and her heirs a percentage of the profits from the Aunt Jemima line, but never honored it. The suit says she portrayed Aunt Jemima in ads from 1935 until her death in 1955. The judge dismissed the suit because the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring it in the first place.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
In order to bring a lawsuit on behalf of someone who is deceased and/or their estate, the person filing the suit must have legal standing to do so. Standing is “the ability of a party to bring a lawsuit in court based upon their stake in the outcome.” One must be able to show the court that there is a sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action that is causing the lawsuit to be filed.
There are three constitutional requirements to prove standing:
1. Injury: The plaintiff must have suffered or imminently will suffer injury. The injury must not be abstract and must be within the zone of interests meant to be regulated or protected under the statutory or constitutional guarantee in question.
2. Causation: The injury must be reasonably connected to the defendant’s conduct.
3. Redressability: A favorable court decision must be likely to redress the injury.
As the great grandchildren brought the suit on behalf of Harrington’s estate, they had to prove that they were the administrator or executors, which they could not do. “The only information about plaintiffs’ connection to Harrington provided by the amended complaint is an account of how Hunter received a photograph (now lost) of Harrington from his grandmother and of plaintiffs’ attempt to locate Harrington’s grave in Syracuse, New York.”
Judge Chang dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning, the heirs can’t bring this lawsuit again.
HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOU?
In order to make a claim or file a lawsuit for the benefit of an estate, you must have authority to do so. Just because you are an heir of a decedent, does not mean you can seek legal restitution. Specifically, for estates, one must be either an administrator (appointed by the court) or an executor (named in the will) to handle matters.
Rashida Maples, Esq. is Founder and Managing Partner of J. Maples & Associates (www.jmaplesandassociates.com). She has practiced Entertainment, Real Estate and Small Business Law for 9 years, handling both transactional and litigation matters. Her clients include R&B Artists Bilal and Olivia, NFL Superstar Ray Lewis, Fashion Powerhouse Harlem’s Fashion Row and Hirschfeld Properties, LLC.