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A lawsuit against poet Maya Angelou brought by a man who claims he had contracted to sell greeting cards based on her poems has been thrown out by a federal judge in Manhattan, as has the poet’s countersuit. Southern District Chief Judge Michael B. Mukasey said that a preliminary, signed letter between the poet and the man, former fight promoter Butch Lewis, was not valid because it lacked essential terms of a joint-venture agreement. Ruling in B. Lewis Productions, Inc., v. Angelou, 01 Civ. 0530, the judge also dismissed Angelou’s counterclaim that Lewis fraudulently induced her into signing the letter, saying Angelou had read it and could have investigated its terms. Angelou first met Lewis at her North Carolina home in 1994, where the two discussed licensing her poetry for greeting cards and other products. Later that year, Lewis sent a draft letter agreement from his company, B. Lewis Productions, to Robert W. Brown, a personal friend of Angelou’s. Brown sent Lewis proposed revisions, mostly addressing copyright provisions. Angelou alleges that when Lewis presented her with a revised letter, he falsely assured her that it had been changed to meet Brown’s requirements. Lewis claims that he made changes consistent with Brown’s suggestions. He also said Angelou read the letter before she signed it, a point Angelou conceded. Over the next three years, Lewis negotiated an offer with Hallmark Cards Inc. to produce cards featuring Angelou’s poetry. But those talks never culminated in a final agreement, and an attorney for Angelou sent a letter to Lewis in 1999 terminating any relationship between the two parties. A year later, Angelou signed a licensing agreement with Hallmark, including an advance 20 times greater than the one negotiated by Lewis years earlier. Under the contract, Hallmark obtained the exclusive right to use both Angelou’s new and previously published literary works for greeting cards and other products. Lewis sued, alleging that Angelou breached a fiduciary duty that she owed to his company, as well as a joint-venture agreement. He also sued Hallmark, claiming the company knowingly induced Angelou to breach her agreement with him. Angelou and Hallmark filed motions for summary judgment, and Angelou also countersued for damages, claiming the letter was fraudulently procured. CLAIMS DISMISSED On Wednesday, Judge Mukasey granted all motions, dismissing all claims in the suit. “The parties showed an intent to be bound by the terms of the Letter or, at the very least, there is an issue of material fact as to their intent,” Mukasey wrote. “However, because the Letter lacks terms essential to a joint venture agreement, it is unenforceable.” One essential missing term, the judge said, was an agreement to share losses incurred by the joint venture, a clause that is required under New York law. In dismissing Angelou’s fraud claim, the judge noted that she had read the contract, saying, “Angelou could easily have verified the terms of the agreement and yet failed to do so; she assumed the risk of a mistake.” Jethro M. Eisenstein of Profeta & Eisenstein represented Lewis. Martin G. Gold and Jacob Inwald of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal represented Angelou. Norman C. Kleinberg, Daniel H. Weiner and Lori A. Mason of Hughes Hubbard & Reed represented Hallmark.

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