Princess Diana died 13 years ago, but litigation involving her image was given new life on Monday.
A split 2nd District Court of Appeal in California reinstated Franklin Mint's malicious prosecution lawsuit against Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the firm that sued Franklin for hawking plates and other collectibles bearing the likeness of the so-called People's Princess.
Writing for the majority, Justice Thomas Willhite said that Manatt had no probable cause to bring trademark dilution or false advertising claims against Franklin on behalf of the firm's clients, the late princess's estate and The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
"No reasonable attorney," Willhite wrote in a 50-page opinion, would conclude that Princess Diana used her name in such a way that it could be protected by trademark. Justice Steven Suzukawa concurred. The ruling in Franklin Mint Co. v. Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, BC285388, reversed now-retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Warren Ettinger, who granted Manatt's motion for nonsuit after a 17-day jury trial.
Franklin Mint sued Manatt and firm partner Mark Lee, claiming that their unsuccessful 1998 lawsuit was a malicious attempt to hurt sales of Diana memorabilia. Franklin Mint settled its claims against Diana's estate and charity trust fund.
In a 34-page dissent, Justice Richard Mosk said that attorneys representing losing parties "shouldn't be fair game" to the victors.
"An attorney who asserts claims on behalf of a client should not be exposed to a malicious prosecution claim just because those claims do not fall within the four corners of established case precedent or the specific words of a statute," Mosk wrote.