In a 41-page cert petition filed with the Supreme Court of California on Monday, Manatt and a team of outside lawyers led by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan national appellate practice chair Kathleen Sullivan argued that the legal issues surrounding the malicious prosecution case the firm faces from The Franklin Mint were muddled enough to require clarification by the state's highest court.
In early May, California's 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a 3-2 ruling reinstating The Franklin Mint's case against Manatt and IP partner Mark Lee. The litigation stemmed from a suit Manatt brought against The Franklin Mint, a popular Exton, Pa.-based coin and collectible maker, on behalf of the estate of Princess Diana of Wales and a memorial fund set up in her memory.
Manatt sued the Mint in 1998 for trademark dilution and false advertising over the company's sales of plates and other collectible items bearing Diana's likeness. The firm was unsuccessful in its suit -- a former federal judge called its claims "groundless" and "unreasonable" -- and the Mint turned around and sued Manatt and Lee for malicious prosecution, claiming the litigation was merely an attempt to hurt sales of Diana memorabilia. (The Mint was particularly rankled by a passage in Manatt's complaint that accused it of being "vultures feeding on the dead," which it claimed damaged its reputation.)
Diana's estate and her memorial fund settled with the Mint, but Manatt and Lee went to trial over a year ago. After a 17-day jury trial, a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge ruled that probable cause existed and granted nonsuit, ending the case in Manatt's favor.
But the Mint appealed on the issue of probable cause, and in May the appellate court in a 50-page opinion reinstated the malicious prosecution claim against the firm and Lee. (A dissenting judge found that there was an adequate legal basis for Manatt to bring the case against the Mint in 1998, objecting to the firm being targeted for damages because it was on the losing side of a case for its client. That argument is one that lawyers for Manatt and Lee refer to repeatedly in their cert petition.)
Lawyers from six firms are working on the case. Loeb & Loeb partner Andrew Clare represented The Franklin Mint at the trial level, before Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld partners L. Rachel Helyar and Rex Heinke and senior counsel William Norris and Michael Small took over on appeal. The plaintiffs have 20 days to file their response to Manatt's cert petition.
Munger, Tolles & Olson partners Brad Brian and Michael Doyen represented Manatt at trial; name partner Ronald Olson is also listed on court filings. Partners David Axelrad, John Taylor, Jr. Frederic Cohen and Curt Cutting of Los Angeles appellate litigation boutique Horvitz & Levy took up the matter for Manatt on appeal, while Quinn Emanuel's Sullivan took the lead working on the California Supreme Court's petition for review. (Lee has turned to partners Kevin Brogan, Neil Martin and Dean Dennis from Los Angeles's Hill, Farrer & Burrill.)
The California Supreme Court has 60 days to decide whether to grant review. That deadline can be extended by 30 days.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Daily.