After analyzing a patent royalty dispute over a Spider-Man toy, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan concluded her majority opinion in 2015’s Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment with an unusual citation. Rather than reference a prior case or statute, Kagan paid homage to the 1962 work in which Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee, along with collaborator Steve Ditko, first introduced the teen-turned-genetically altered superhero to the public.
“In this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility,” Kagan wrote, citing a Spider-Man quote that has been making the rounds in social media circles this week, after news broke on Monday that Lee had died at age 95.
A Supreme Court justice pulling words from his iconic character was just one of many times Lee intersected with the American court system. In his fictional world, one of his superhero creations—vigilante crime-fighter Daredevil—spends his days as a lawyer named Matt Murdock. But Lee also kept several lawyers busy in real life, particularly in recent times as accusations of elder abuse targeted former business managers and others close to him.
By the time Kimble came around, Lee was mostly a figurehead at Marvel Entertainment—a company that has helped move Lee’s work from the domain of comic books to large-scale Hollywood action films. He made frequent cameo appearances in movies based on Marvel comics, and held a chairman emeritus position at Marvel Entertainment until his death. But others had been running the company’s day-to-day operations for years.
Still, as Kagan’s opinion implies, Lee’s creative legacy remains strongly tied to everything that Marvel does. In the Supreme Court patent case, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr appellate expert Seth Waxman argued for Marvel Entertainment. Waxman said Tuesday that, despite his serving as counsel for Marvel, he didn’t have a chance to interact with Lee during that case.
Beyond the Marvel ties, Lee had a direct role in a series of litigation battles that have played out this year, all of which involved lawyers outside of Big Law and came after The Hollywood Reporter published an investigative piece about Lee that included allegations of elder abuse.
The article, released in April, delved into contentious disputes playing out over Lee’s care and estate after his wife of nearly 70 years, Joan Lee, died in 2017, also at age 95. The report focused, in part, on Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, and two of Lee’s former business managers—Keya Morgan and Jerardo Olivarez.
Soon afterward, Lee launched a flurry of legal actions. In April, represented by Jonathan Freund and Craig Huber of the small Beverly Hills firm Freund & Brackey, Lee sued Olivarez. That suit alleges fraud and financial abuse and remains pending. It accused Olivarez of being one of several “unscrupulous businessmen, sycophants and opportunists” trying to take advantage of Lee after his wife’s death.
Then in May, represented by Adam Grant and Jennifer Levin Stearns of Encino, California’s Alpert Barr & Grant, Lee lodged a short-lived, $1 billion lawsuit against POW! Entertainment Inc., a production company he had formed in 2001 with two business partners.
In that suit, Lee alleged that POW! fraudulently signed away rights to use his name and likeness. But the claims were resolved not long after the suit was filed in California state court; in July, several news outlets reported that Lee had dismissed the suit. Grant, who represented Lee in the brief litigation, did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Lee also sought a restraining order in June against Morgan, the other former business manager at the center of The Hollywood Reporter investigation. In that matter, the Marvel creator initially had representation from Tom Lallas—a onetime Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher associate who has spent roughly four decades at the 12-lawyer Levy, Smalls & Lallas in Los Angeles. Lallas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But by July, Lallas had been replaced on that matter by Freund, who managed in August to reinstate the restraining order against Morgan after it briefly lapsed amidst confusion over who Lee’s lawyer was. Freund was unavailable on Tuesday to discuss his work for Lee.