Michael Jackson’s Estate to Proceed with Lawsuit
By Alison Parker
Reviewed by Jennifer Williams
Michael Jackson’s estate filed a lawsuit in January against Howard Mann, a business partner of Jackson’s mother Katherine, and the owner/operator of the website, http://www.JacksonSecretVault.com. The lawsuit alleges that Mann misused Jackson’s intellectual property rights and violated various copyright and trademark laws in its use of Michael Jackson’s (MJ) name and image on the products offered for sale on the website. Showbiz411 reported that Mann purchased the contents of a Jackson family warehouse full of Jackson memorabilia after the warehouses’ then-owner filed for bankruptcy. Mann sells the memorabilia, which includes Jackson family items like DVDs, photos and calendars, on the website. It is easy to see why the estate believes that Mann’s site causes consumer confusion; aside from using MJ’s name and image to promote the memorabilia, Mann goes as far as to actually thank the Jackson Estate on the website–a gesture which understandably could make any consumer or potential purchaser feel as though the Jackson Estate actually endorses the website and the products it sells. The L.A. Times reported that the estate seeks attorneys’ fees and damages as well as the profits from the memorabilia, including profits from “Never Can Say Goodbye,” a book of family photos Katherine Jackson promoted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Interestingly, Michael Jackson filed a similar lawsuit in 2004 against Mann over similar intellectual property issues, but later abandoned the lawsuit. Mann tried to gain leverage from the fact that the 2004 lawsuit was dismissed; he used that lawsuit as the basis of his motion to dismiss the current lawsuit. In Mann’s motion to dismiss, he claimed that the Jackson Estate is precluded from bringing the 2011 lawsuit because the same issues had already been raised and dismissed. However, the crux of Mann’s claim hinged on why the lawsuit was dismissed–a burden that he had to prove. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Judge Dean Pregerson found that the record of the 2004 lawsuit was “undeveloped” and rejected Mann’s motion because the “identity of the claims are subject to factual dispute.” The fact that the 2004 claims were indiscernible was a big victory for the Jackson Estate as far as proceeding with this lawsuit.
Generally speaking, there are two different ways a lawsuit is dismissed–with prejudice and without prejudice. In order to have succeeded on his motion to dismiss, Mann would have had to show that the 2004 lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. In order to prove dismissal with prejudice in this situation, Mann would have to show that the factual and legal claims in the 2004 lawsuit were the exact same as the 2011 claims and that the 2004 claims were dismissed based on their merits. If the 2004 lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, the dismissal would have been considered a final judgment and MJ’s Estate would have been legally unable to bring the 2011 lawsuit.
However, if MJ’s 2004 lawsuit had been dismissed without prejudice, the dismissal would not have been based on the merits of MJ’s case and MJ’s Estate would be entitled to raise the same claims in the 2011 lawsuit. Either way, Mann was unable to show the reason that the 2004 lawsuit was dismissed and because he did not meet his burden, the judge denied his motion thus allowing the Jackson Estate to proceed with the current lawsuit. It sure seems like the Jackson drama never ends.
Dismissal with or without prejudice: http://www.mobar.org/journal/2000/julaug/mccarter.htm