Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy dismissed the 13-year-old lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. brought by Stephen Slesinger Inc., the owners of the Winnie the Pooh merchandising rights, after concluding that they "tampered with the administration of justice" by hiring a private investigator to take documents from Disney's trash bins. Mondays ruling spares Disney from having to pay royalties and damages that might have totaled hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Disney.
Slesinger sued in 1991, seeking additional royalties and the end of the Pooh licensing agreement. Disney filed its motion for sanctions more than a year ago.
Slesinger's "willingness to tamper with, even corrupt, the litigation process constitutes a substantial threat to the integrity of the judicial process," McCoy wrote in his ruling.
Slesinger argued that all of the documents were taken from publicly accessible dumpsters. The family company employed such methods only because Disney "continued to unreasonably block discovery," Slesinger lawyer Patrick Cathcart told the judge at the hearing last month. Cathcart said the judge didnt address the underlying merits of the case.
Slesinger issued the following prepared statement:
"Of course, we are appealing to take our Pooh rights back. This decision unfortunately sends a strong message to corporate America that it is okay for companies like Disney to steal and renege on its contractual promises, and just fine to destroy a million pages of evidence along the way. This is just one round in a very long and complicated relationship and another delay of justice. What is in the garbage documents is that Disney committed fraud and the judge has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. This has not removed Disney's ongoing obligation to pay royalties to Slesinger family or remedy its unauthorized uses of Pooh."