Despite being dismissed by a Superior Court judge last year, the 13 year-old lawsuit over the Winnie the Pooh licensing and merchandising honey pot is far from over. Stephen Slesinger Inc., which owns much of the licensing rights to the Pooh characters, has filed an appeal in its continuing efforts to win $700 million the company believes is owed to it by The Walt Disney Co.
Stephen Slesinger entered into the original licensing agreement with Pooh creator A. A. Milne in 1931 and his family sold rights to Disney in 1961. The Slesinger family filed suit in 1991, claiming that Disney had repeatedly breached its contractual obligations for several years, failing to account accurately and pay royalties owed.
Judge Charles W. McCoy, Jr. threw the case out of court in March of 2004 on grounds that an investigator for Slesinger’s prior trial attorney unlawfully retrieved documents from trash bins outside Disney offices more than ten years ago. Despite agreeing to have the documents mad inadmissible, the Slesingers were denied their day in court.
“The trial court’s action was unprecedented and, I am convinced, incorrect," says Jerome B. Falk, Jr., a Howard Rice appellate specialist and lead counsel for Slesinger in the appeal. "Dismissal of the entire case was overkill, and deprived Slesinger of its day in court on claims that, even by Disney’s public estimate, exposed it to hundreds of millions in damages.”
The appeal calls for reversal of the judgment on grounds that California trial judges lack the power to terminate a lawsuit as a sanction unless the legislature confers such a power by statute. Papers filed further assert that even in those circumstances where a statute does authorize dismissal as a sanction, the court cannot do so unless the offending party had violated a prior a court order.
This latest action in the ongoing legal battle comes just two days after the home video release of Disney’s Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, the latest big-screen animated outing for the beloved inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.