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Disney wins a ruling in long Pooh dispute

March 28, 2007|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed several claims against Walt Disney Co. brought by a Beverly Hills family that holds the merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh.

U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper threw out three of the Slesinger family's claims in a case dealing with copyright for Winnie the Pooh. Cooper set aside the Slesingers' nine other claims, saying they should be resolved after a decision is reached in an appeal of a related state court case, which Disney won.

"We're pleased with the court's decision," said Daniel Petrocelli, Disney's attorney in the long-running litigation.

Patricia Slesinger saw a silver lining in the judge's decision. "The ruling allows our case to proceed," she said.

In February, Cooper handed the family a rare victory, dismissing a copyright lawsuit that sought to end Disney's obligation to pay the family royalties for sales of Pooh merchandise.

The Slesinger family has said that its claims against the Burbank entertainment giant could be worth as much as $2 billion.

In 1961, the family, which inherited the merchandising rights to Pooh from Slesinger's father, transferred those rights to Disney in exchange for royalties.

But the partnership became contentious. In 1991, the Slesingers sued Disney in state court, alleging breach of contract and fraud. They claimed that through the years Disney had cheated them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from Pooh.

A state court judge tossed out that breach-of-contract case in 2004. That judge, finding misconduct on the part of the family, accused it of trying to gain an edge in the litigation by stealing confidential Disney documents from the company's trash, and then lying and altering court papers to cover up the thefts.

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