The Walt Disney company has emerged victorious in a 16-year court battle over the rights to Winnie the Pooh. A California appellate court upheld an earlier ruling that threw out the case filed by the family of Stephen Slesinger, who had acquired the merchandising rights to the ursine honey-lover from creator A. A. Milne in the 30s.
A major reason for Disney’s triumph was behavior on the part of the Slesinger legal team: they were caught “dumpster diving” to find evidence and even worse, tampering with the evidence to help their case. The decision may be precedent setting.
“We hold that when a plaintiff’s deliberate and egregious misconduct makes any sanction other than dismissal inadequate to ensure a fair trial, the trial court has inherent power to impose a terminating sanction,” the 54-page ruling concluded.
The battle over the bear has cost the two sides tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and resulted in hundreds of thousands of documents filed in lawsuits that have come before at least four judges in California and federal courts.
“The message is loud and clear that if you cheat in the courts you forfeit your rights to the courts,” said Daniel Petrocelli, Disney’s lead attorney in the Pooh case. “Eventually, all of the cheating came to light and the case was rightfully thrown out.”
The Slesingers can still appeal to the California Supreme Court, so there still could be some legal Heffalumps lurking in the 100 Acre Wood.