“Aunt Jemima” $3 Billion Royalties Suit Against PepsiCo, Quaker Oats Dismissed
An Illinois federal court has dismissed with prejudice a suit brought by two purported heirs of Anna Short Harrington, the woman who portrayed Aunt Jemima from 1935 to the 1950s, against PepsiCo Inc., The Quaker Oats Co., Pinnacle Foods Group, and The Hillshire Brands Co. Hunter v. PepsiCo Inc., No. 14-6011 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Ill., order entered February 18, 2015).
Harrington served as the face of the Aunt Jemima brand in commercials and public appearances for more than a decade pursuant to a contract which allegedly provided that she would receive a percentage of the proceeds and royalties for the use of her image. The plaintiffs brought 15 causes of action against the food companies, including deprivation of the right of publicity, breach of contract and violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs asserted that they were Harrington’s great-grandsons, but “[t]he only information about Plaintiffs’ connection to Harrington provided by the amended complaint is an account of how Hunter received a photograph (now lost) of Harrington from his grandmother and of Plaintiffs’ attempt to locate Harrington’s grave in Syracuse, New York.” The court found that the plaintiffs could not prove that they were authorized to act as executors of Harrington’s estate, a conclusion supported by their motion for leave to obtain those rights. The court also accepted the defendants’ arguments that (i) the statutes of limitations had run on many of the claims; (ii) some of the claimed causes of action, such as the alleged violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, were not actionable; (iii) the complaint lacked necessary elements for several claims, including the alleged trademark violations; and (iv) none of the facts in the complaint supported the argument that some of the defendants were at all liable for the causes of action. But because the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the claims, the court noted, detailed analysis of each cause of action was unnecessary. The court also found a motion for a time extension “to enter Surrogate’s Court of Onondaga” to be “unintelligible,” and dismissed the plaintiffs’ request that the judge disqualify himself as unsupported.