A subpoena was issued earlier this week by the United States District Court in California against Stan Lee in the lawsuit by Stan Lee Media, Inc. (SLMI) against The Walt Disney Company (USDC Colorado, case 12-cv-02663). The multi-billion dollar lawsuit claims that it is SLMI, not Disney/Marvel, that owns the rights to characters that Lee owned, but then transferred to Marvel in the late ’90s. It was prior to this that Lee founded SLMI (which would later fail), the shareholders of which are claiming Lee signed the rights over to them and therefore never had the rights to transfer to Marvel, which would then go own to be owned by Disney, including iconic properties such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, X-Men, Thor and the Incredible Hulk, amongst others.
According to the subpoena, Lee is ordered to offer a deposition in the case on February 19. In addition, Lee is being asked to produce documents including all communication between himself and Disney, Marvel or Stan Lee Media pertaining to the issue as well as communication between SLMI and Disney or Marvel along with financial and corporate information for SLMI, all dating back to 1998.
Safety, courtesy, show and efficiency; these are the four guiding principles (or keys) that Disney Parks and Resorts ingrains into its ‘cast members’ that not only highlight how to conduct themselves in their ‘roles,’ at the parks, but stress their order of importance. Therefore, safety is the primary concern of the company and its employees.
But what if a cast member were to run ‘afoul’ of the organization and its management and cite concerns regarding safety? And especially where management is effectively swapping the importance of safety for the sake of efficiency? Worse yet, what if that cast member claims retaliation for their whistle-blowing and says they were wrongfully terminated as a result?
This is the reported story of Victoria Ann Smith, who last week filed a lawsuit against Disney Parks and Resorts and Local Union 362 President Eric Clinton, stating that despite a near-exemplary record, she was fired not because of a terminable offense as claimed by management, but because she consistently called out the manager on safety concerns.
Smith’s role, as it pertains to the suit, was that of the ‘Gangster’ at The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort. According to the suit, Disney claims her termination came as a result of leaving her microphone on in the cast member break room and using an expletive (namely ‘Oh s—-!’) which would theoretically be heard by guests inside the attraction. While Smith disputes the event even took place, she also argues that the offense is only terminable if spoken in front of guests (as per the union contract) and that by being separated from the guests by being inside the break room, the claim does not stand.
To her defense, Smith argues in her two and a half years as a cast member, she received no less than 16 ‘great service fanatic cards’ and only small number of points for tardiness as well as a case where her provided ‘extra service to a guest’ was ‘misconstrued as her leaving her station.’ Smith asserts that retaliation was the motivation behind the termination by her manager (named as ‘Steve S.’) who had a personal vendetta against her for continuously noting safety infractions (‘such as a broken door threatening Cast Member safety, a broken fan failing to clear smoke threatening guest and Cast member safety, and her refusal to abide by the manager’s violation of the red light/green light vehicle system to speed up the ride (designed for guide safety).’)
Bolstering her claim, Smith notes that while the manager in question immediately obtained (and reportedly influenced) accounts from other cast members, he did not speak to her directly about it for a week following, despite her working every day since. Smith even includes the statements from three other cast members regarding the alleged incident in her complaint and disputes each one accordingly.
Smith is seeking $250,000 for emotional distress and for lost future wages.
The Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios lives up to its name for millions of thrillseekers a year, but for one New Yorker, it took terror to all new heights courtesy of the Kardashian clan, according to a restraining order request filed earlier this week in Florida Middle District Court.
The claim originates from Brooklyn native Gino Romano, who may be better known as Jonathan Lee Riches, a man that Guinness World Records has dubbed ‘the most litigious person in the world,’ having filed thousands of frivolous lawsuits over the past few years. This according to CNY Central, reporting on yet another odd case filed by Riches earlier this month.
If he weren’t so set on suing anyone and everything, he might actually find himself a career in fictional writing given the extent of zaniness he manages to dole out several times a week. Here, for example, is the contents of the complaint he filed against both Walt Disney World and Kardashian sisters (and mother, Kris Jenner):
I face imminent danger and bodily harm from the Kardashians and Kris Jenner.
On 6/11/2012 I was in Walt Disney World at MGM Studios, and Kim Kardashian terrorized me on the Tower of Terror, I previously sued the Kardashians last week in Nashville TN, and they are mad at me, and want revenge, so the Kardashians on Kris Jenner’s direct orders have been following & stalking me across the nation to seek jihad against me, and to silence me from whistleblowing against them, so I was on the Tower of Terror and right before the ride dropped from the sky, Kim Kardashian & Kourtney Kardashian were sitting behind me on the ride, and Kim whispered in my ear ‘Boo’ ‘I’m following you Romano’ and ‘You better drop the lawsuits against us or Lamar Odom & Kris Humphries are gonna get you sucker’ then Kourtney tasered me as the ride was dropping, I began shaking and having a seizure and the Kardashians were laughing at me and Kim Kardashian made her voice like the Wicked Witch of the West, threatening to take my dog and give it to Michael Vick, and I ran off the ride in fear, and ran right into the waiting arms of Khloe Kardashian who was dressed as a sumo wrestler and she body slammed me onto the curb, while Kim Kardashian started pick pocketing my wallet, and Kourtney stole my Rolex and gave it to Scott Disick who wears it on the E! Network. I been robbed by the defendants, and they told me on my Facebook page that I can get my wallet back only if I stop suing them and I let Walt Disney World security and Michael Isner [sic] know, and they only gave me $5 off my next Disney visit, also Kim Kardashian stole my Mickey Mouse t-shirt and threw it onto the tracks of Space Mountain where I could not reach it. I seek restraining orders against the Kardashians following me around the country, I plan on going to Universal Studios in a few weeks and don’t want to get attached by the Kardashes [sic] on Batman or Transformer, I already suufered [sic] enough pain, emotional hormonal disfunction [sic] all in the hands of the Kardashians, please help me.’
Now of course what immediately triggered the feeling that this request was frivolous was the fact that the vehicle is pulled down on Tower of Terror, not dropped. However, after careful consideration, everything else mentioned appears to point to it as well. In fact, mentions of MGM Studios, Kris Humphries and Michael Eisner suggests that time is as warped as Riches/Romano’s requests. In fact, Romano reported filed another similarly ridiculous request for action against the Kardashians in the same week, claiming the family had harassed him at Busch Gardens in Tampa just the day before, despite the family’s publicity agent denying they were anywhere in the area at the time. According to Kim Kardashian’s Twitter timeline, she herself claims to have been attending functions and meetings in California on the day she was reportedly in Orlando, bringing the Tower of Terror to life.
UPDATE #1: 6/16/12 – For further reading, this Facebook page, presumably unauthorized, chronicles media coverage of Riches’ litigious exploits.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 631 and the Service Trades Council Union filed a complaint in Florida Middle District Court against Walt Disney World yesterday over labor hiring practices which they claim are in violation of the then-governing agreement and subsequent mediation rulings.
At the heart of the complaint is the employment of ‘Temporary Employee Referral Program’ (TERP) employees at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in which the IATSE claims Walt Disney World deliberately went outside the agreement to hire on their own from sources unknown to the union. According to the mediation awards, Walt Disney World must use a list of qualified TERPs supplied to them by the IATSE. The IATSE asserts that not only did Walt Disney World not adhere to the previous rulings, but to date have neither asked IATSE for such a list nor have been willing to provide a list of their sources and number of TERPs hired and the required qualifications for said hirings, which is in direct violation of additional rulings by the mediator.
The lawsuit seeks to have the mediation rulings enforced by the court.
As a teen, she dropped out of high school to join the convent. For decades, she has devoted her life to the Lord, taking her preaching out into the streets of Harlem, New York, reaching out to drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes and gangsters. She sparked an ‘intimate’ friendship with noted Harlem mob boss Bumpy Johnson. She was elected into the office of unofficial mayor of Harlem and sworn in by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as well as named the community mayor. She has even been profiled in the New York Times. But perhaps the part she is most well known for, if she has it her way, is the inspiration behind Whoopi Goldberg’s character of Deloris Van Carter in the hit musical comedy, Sister Act, as well as its sequel — Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit — and, most recently, the Broadway musical of the same name. Her name is Delois Blakely and she has recently filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in New York against Walt Disney Studios (as Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, Inc.), musical producer Stage Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertaiment, producer Scott Rudin and original screenwriter Paul Rudnick for stealing her story and bringing it to the silver screen and Broadway stage.
It’s no coincidence that the film’s main character is named Deloris and she Delois, she notes in her claim. Nor is it a coincidence that in the film, Deloris is known as Sister Mary, while she herself was known as Sister Marie. Other similarities are noted such as Deloris’ association with a gangster and how Deloris became choir director in the film (Blakely had only gone as far as to train for the same position). The similarities begin to wane, but not so much the inspiration, as Blakley points out that while Deloris hid in the convent to escape the wrath of gangsters, she had taken Bumpy Johnson into the convent to protect him from other gangsters. She also points out philosophical beliefs between the character and herself, namely that her belief that the Church should move to unconventional means and take their teachings out in the streets, a technique she employed, ultimately causing her to leave the convent after ten years, but not her aspirations and faith.
According to Blakely, Hollywood learned of her life after she brought an autobiography titled The Harlem Street Nun to literary agent Bertha Klausner in 1989. Although the manuscript appears to never have been published, its existence is confirmed by the custodian of Klausner’s collection, the University of Wyoming, although it attributes the manuscript to Frank Harris III.
Blakely says the manuscript was well received by TriStar Pictures who were interested in the project, enough so that they conducted a personal follow-up call with Blakely (essentially a fact-finding mission) and seemed eager to develop the deal, but warned that an impending merger with Columbia Pictures may slow the process. As nothing ever came of it, Blakely eventually learned of the film, produced by Disney’s Touchstone Pictures, and its subject matter, and worked for years to piece the story together as to how her story made it to the big screen.
The common denominator, according to Blakely, was noted film producer Scott Rudin. According to industry articles she had found online, Rudin, who had the story at TriStar was banned from the lot by Columbia (following a previous altercation) and he instead took the project, mentioned in the article by name, to Disney. Blakely asked Disney to investigate the matter and they did, determining that Sister Act was an original title, not based on any pre-existing material. For their part, Sony simply could only confirm that there was never a deal in place and could not find any mention of Blakely’s manuscript on file.
Blakely is actively pursuing a trial by jury and is seeking ‘damages and injunctive relief arising from defendants’ breach of contract, breach of confidential relationship, misappropriation and unjust enrichment, unfair competition, false representation, violation of right of publicity and other wrongs.’
ADDED: Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Disney has been sued over the Sister Act film. A copyright claim filed against Walt Disney Studios in the mid-90s by plaintiffs Donna Douglas and Curt Wilson cited dozens of similarities between the final product and a script they had submitted to the Studio. In that particular case, the presiding judge ruled that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the case and ruled in Disney’s favor.
Whether Sister Act is determined to be based on Blakely’s own memoirs remains to be seen, but she has — without dispute — lived a remarkable life and perhaps the greatest chapter has yet to be written as she has elected to forgo a legal team and is representing herself.
A nun turned lawyer — if that doesn’t scream Disney live action, what does?
The first DreamWorks motion picture to be marketed by Walt Disney Studios, I Am Number Four, is the basis for a new patent infringement lawsuit filed by Patent Harbor, LLC, in Texas Eastern District Court yesterday against The Walt Disney Company. Patent Harbor claims that the Blu-Ray and DVD editions of the DreamWorks film violates their patent, #5,684,514 (aka ’514) – Apparatus and Method for Assembling Content Addressable Video, with its ‘content-addressing features (e.g. illustrated
chapter/scene selection) along with the authoring equipment, and/or sale of the authored discs,
on behalf of others and/or itself.’
The complaint also makes mention of Walt Disney Studios’ distribution of Miramax films on Blu-ray and DVD discs but does not go as far as to name any other specific films other than I Am Number Four.
Patent Harbor is requesting a trial by jury with claims to both pre- and post- lawsuit penalties and royalties based on sales of the movies found to be infringing upon the patent. Similar lawsuits have also been filed against LG Electronics, Audiovox Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and DreamWorks Animation, with the court urging the use of mediation in most of the cases.
We finally have an update on a lawsuit filed by Walker Digital against The Walt Disney Company which claimed that the PhotoPass service available within the theme parks actively infringed upon its patent and requested an injunction against the service be ordered.
Apparently the team of Disney lawyers felt it was in their best interest to not go the common route of seeking methods for simply having the case thrown out, but have instead opted to help Walker Digital’s cause by telling them exactly who to sue. As a result, an amended complaint was filed yesterday to name Disney Photo Imaging, LLC as the
plaintiff defendant as advised by both DPI and The Walt Disney Company.
As it turns out, the move may simply be a stall tactic since Walker Digital has agreed to allow DPI another 30 days (until September 19, 2011) to answer the case, despite there obviously being awareness on the part of DPI and The Walt Disney Company. It could be a case of the prey toying with the predator, or Disney may in fact see some legitimacy in Walker Digital’s original complaint.
Earlier this week, Judge Dolly Gee of the United States District Court Central District of California has validated claims against Disney Parks and Resorts on behalf of plaintiffs Cari Shields, Amber Boggs and Teresa Stockton. The decision, which is available online via the plaintiffs’ attorney, offers a play-by-play in the ruling and demonstrates how each side has argued its point of view along each step of the decision process and thus, the court’s ruling.
In short, the lawsuit, which does not seek any monetary rewards, was broken down into ten different classes, identifying ten different issues that would have to be accepted as widely viewed complaints against those who are visually impaired and visited the Disney theme parks. For its part, the court reviewed complaints made at the parks in order to justify the requirement that enough guests have had the same experiences as the plaintiffs. Once requirements were satisfied, Disney Parks would argue not only the justification (in most cases), but eventually the ability for the plaintiffs to act as representatives for the class(es) in the lawsuit. One argument to dismiss Boggs and Shields as representatives for example is that they had threatened legal action against Disney Cruise Line for lack of similar accommodations. This logic backfired for Disney Parks, however, as the Court not only failed to see how a separate legal entity was related to the case at hand, but the fact that it showed the plaintiffs believed in their cause and showed commitment to it.
Of the initial ten defined classes (identified sources of issues for the legally blind) named in the suit, the Court ultimately found five to withstand all the requirements to be able to move forward with. Those include:
Plaintiffs allege there is lack of braille, large-print and other alternative signs, menus, maps and schedules to be found around the resort. Disney argued with evidence citing that only 10% of legally blind make use of braille and that requests for braille items is considered atypical (and thus fails to meet one of the legal requirements to proceed). Where the Court does stand behind the class, however, is that plaintiffs have alleged that cast members have refused to read menus to them.
Another area in which Disney’s argument backfired against them is in the use of kennels. Originally seeking relief against the cost of the use of kennels for service animals, the ability to tie up the service animal near an attraction and the lack of designated areas for service animals to defecate within the park, the first two claims were dismissed based on lack of complaints from other guests. The inability to locate area for service animals to defecate, however, stood up and the Court found that Disney’s response that all a visually impaired guest need to do is ask a cast member suggests that any such designated spot is difficult to locate. Additionally one plaintiff recalls being told by a cast member that she must take the dog to the kennel located at the front of the park and another guest complaint noted that the spot designated by the cast member was extremely remote.
Disney had difficulty finding an argument that held water with the Court on this issue, in which plaintiffs assert that as Disney Parks refuses to offer cast members to assist visually impaired guests inside the park, that they must bring someone with them and pay full price for admission. Here, Disney argued that there wasn’t enough unified complaints, stating some guests asked for discounted tickets and some asked for free, but the Court accused Disney of ‘splitting hairs’ and dismissed that argument. Disney then argued that lines should be drawn that those that would receive free or discounted admission should be paid medical personnel and not friends or family that would otherwise enjoy amenities of the parks. This argument too was dismissed.
Plaintiffs allege discrimination against the visually impaired because some guests have been actively denied access to the handicap viewing area, simply because they weren’t in wheelchairs. One guest complaint included a scenario in which the complainant’s daughter was refused front viewing for a parade and had to stand behind a guest in a wheelchair at the insistence of a cast member. The class also included shows, but the Court had found no evidence to support that aspect of the class, so it was modified to address just parades.
Plaintiffs allege that the Disney Parks websites are incompatible with screen reading software (with one plaintiff stating she had tried six different versions) and a guest complaining that the flash-based calendar (on Disneyland.com) automatically rendered it unusable with screen reading software. Disney’s arguments, one of which I failed to understand completely regarding the use of Disney Online’s navigation bars, also included the notion that there was ‘no accepted accessibility standard’ and that since the Department of Justice has ‘yet to determine which standards would apply to websites’ makes the issue moot.
Another class worth noting, which didn’t make the final cut, was the audio accessible device, presumably the one so lauded by Disney and the American Foundation for the Blind. This class failed to be accepted by the Court because although there were many issues and complaints associated with the device, it failed to satisfy the legal requirements. One plaintiff alleged that the device turned itself off and had no way to turn it back on without returning to Guest Relations for assistance, but other complaints included: the device not working at all; available only in English; inadequate audio descriptions and food menus; lack of GPS technology; lack of knowledge of operational use by cast members; lack of power button; inability to use device hands-free; and ambient noise drowning out audio — to name some.
Walker Digital, who stepped into the legal spotlight earlier this year when it went to sue over 100 technology companies for patent infringements, is at it again. This time, they have their sights set on The Walt Disney Company, specifically Disney Photo Imaging, the business unit behind the Disney PhotoPass service at the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.
At the heart of the complaint is Walker Digital’s patent titled ‘Method and Apparatus for
Automatically Capturing and Managing Images’ which, in all fairness, is a rather creative device in which a camera (or user of a camera) sets parameters to determine if a photo is worth keeping and, if so, either compresses or forwards the image to another device to recover lost space. The keyword throughout the patent is automatic and the image analyzer uses a point system to determine if a photo is worth keeping or if it should be deleted, so that when left alone in the wild, it never suffers from storage concerns.
Specifically what Walker Digital claims, however, is that Disney PhotoPass is violating claim 1 of the patent in which a camera (or user) sees if a photo meets desired qualifications and then sends it off somewhere else for storage, or as the complaint states: ‘By way of example and without limitation, Defendant’s camera systems that are part of the Disney PhotoPass service allow Disney’s photographers to pre-program the system to transmit later acquired images when certain conditions are satisfied.’
This can very loosely be applied to how the PhotoPass system currently works (to my understanding, anyway). Firstly, the photographer really has no QA concerns as far as I’m aware. If they did, over-/under-exposed and out-of-focus and other problematic photos would simply not exist in guests’ accounts. The fact is, PhotoPass does have a quality assurance department who reviews every photo after the image has been transmitted wirelessly. Although they do not reject photos based on quality of the photos, they do reject photos that violate the terms of service and that could apply to what Walker Digital claims but for the fact that, again, it happens after the photo is transmitted to a secondary device. In essence, while Walker Digital aims to resolve issues with limited local storage being consumed, Disney PhotoPass transmits photos wirelessly for convenience to both the photographer and the guests. Therefore, the spirit of the patent does not match the spirit of the PhotoPass service.
In addition to compensatory damages and lawyers’ fees and the like, Walker Digital is seeking a permanent injunction against the Disney PhotoPass service (even eliminating the wireless aspect may not help the cause) and a trial by jury.
Earlier today, The Walt Disney Company was delivered a summons notifying them of the lawsuit and that they have 21 days to respond to the complaint which we include here for those who are interested in reading it. Be prepared, however, to read how Walker Digital created Priceline.com ad nauseum.
Even if I were to understand half of this, I don’t think I understand any of this, thus it’s right up my alley. Some underwriters at Lloyds of London recently filed a claim against Thomas Wright of Loganville, Georgia, owner of Paintball Sports Promotions and Disney Parks and Resorts, specifically Walt Disney World, in what appears to be the next step in an already complicated legal mess.
The lawsuit’s genesis appears to go back to 2006, when Paintball Sports Promotions held a paintball event at then-Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Owen Peterson of Kentstore, Virginia attended the event and sustained injuries which led to ‘bodily injury, including traumatic brain injury, and resulting pain and suffering, impairment, disability, inconvenience, disfigurement, mental anguish, loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life’ and various medical costs as a result of an an inflated display for a third party vendor.
Peterson went forward and sued Walt Disney World, Wright and Crossfire Inc. for damages in excess of $15,000 to which Disney responded by saying it was not responsible as the contract with Wright to hold the 2006 PSP World Cup indeminfied them of any damages arising from the event.
Apparently Peterson may not have had much luck with the other companies as it appears he went ahead and attempted to file a claim with Lloyds of London, the insurers for the event. Llyods response, however, was that the damages sustained by Peterson took place outside of an actual paintball event so they were automatically not accountable. But with that can of worms opened, Lloyds has now turned to its own lawsuit on the grounds of breach of contract, noting that 2009 was the first they had learned of the incident — which didn’t happen in the arena, mind you — and that Wright and his company and Walt Disney World violated terms of the agreement which required prompt notification of any incidents and, as such, are seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages to recoup any losses investigating the case.