United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division
JERRY LEE LEWIS, JUDITH LEWIS, and JERRY LEE LEWIS, III PLAINTIFFS
EZEKIEL ASA LOFTIN, XII, PHOEBE LEWIS-LOFTIN, and PONT NEUF, an unincorporated entity DEFENDANTS EZEKIEL ASA LOFTIN, XII, and PHOEBE LEWIS-LOFTIN COUNTER-PLAINTIFFS
JUDITH LEWIS and JERRY LEE LEWIS, III COUNTER-DEFENDANTS
B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the court are the parties' motions for summary
judgment. Upon due consideration of the motions, responses,
exhibits and applicable authority, the court is ready to
and Procedural Background
Jerry Lee Lewis (hereinafter “Jerry”) is a
world-renowned singer, songwriter and musician. Sometime in
1999 or 2000, Jerry's daughter,
Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff Phoebe Lewis-Loftin (hereinafter
“Phoebe”), moved in with him at his ranch in
Nesbit, Mississippi, to serve both as his caretaker and
business manager. Phoebe admittedly had no relevant work
experience prior to taking on this role.
3, 2002, Jerry and Phoebe executed a “Management
Agreement” which formalized and reaffirmed the
father-daughter business relationship. Pursuant to this
agreement, Phoebe was tasked with managing all aspects of
Jerry's entertainment career and was required to act in
his best interest at all times. Under the agreement's
compensation terms, Phoebe was to receive fifty (50) percent
of all entertainment-related income earned by Jerry. A few
years later, on February 10, 2005, Jerry appointed Phoebe as
his Power of Attorney.
the management of her father's career, Phoebe hired an
intellectual property management team, Brasstacks Alliance,
to aid her in generating income from Jerry's written
compositions. Phoebe's contact at Brasstacks, Michael
Blitzer, drafted a publishing agreement which he encouraged
Phoebe to have Jerry sign. Consequently, on November 1, 2005,
Jerry signed a “Songwriter Agreement” in which he
assigned to Pont Neuf all of his intellectual property rights
in all musical compositions written by him from 1950 to
2005. Pursuant to this agreement, Pont Neuf was
granted the perpetual right to use and publish these musical
compositions and to permit others to use and publish
Jerry's name. The agreement obligated Phoebe to provider
her father with semi-annual accountings of all royalties due
and to pay Jerry a percentage of income generated from said
the business relationship, Phoebe deposited all of
Jerry's earnings into either her personal or business
bank accounts, both of which she alone controlled. Such
deposits were not limited to Jerry's entertainment
income; rather, Phoebe also deposited his pension and social
security checks into these accounts. According to Phoebe,
this arrangement was necessary because her father did not
have a bank account of his own. Yet, the Power of Attorney
gave her authority to open an account for Jerry. Moreover,
Phoebe admitted to closing one of Jerry's bank accounts
during this time. Jerry often questioned Phoebe as to the
whereabouts of his money. While Phoebe admits to never paying
her father a salary, Jerry would often pick up cash from
venues before a performance. Otherwise, Phoebe handled all of
2010, Phoebe hired Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant Judith Lewis
(hereinafter “Judith”) to serve as Jerry's
caretaker. Around this same time, Phoebe met
Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff Ezekiel Asa Loftin, XII
(hereinafter “Zeke”), who owned a magazine
entitled “Twisted South.” The two met after Zeke
contacted Phoebe asking to do a story on Jerry and to put him
on the cover of the magazine. Soon after meeting, the two began
dating and Phoebe purchased a home in Holly Springs,
Mississippi for him to reside.
in 2011, Jerry and Judith became romantically involved. Soon
after, Jerry and Judith visited the office of David
Moneypeny, Plaintiff's tax attorney,  to review his and
Pont Neuf's records. On May 16, 2011, Phoebe's
attorney, Blanchard Tual,  sent Judith a letter asserting that
Judith had breached her employment agreement with Phoebe.
Tual further advised Judith that her employment would be
terminated, and that she would be removed from the Lewis
ranch, should she continue to interfere with Jerry and
Phoebe's business relationship.
same year, Phoebe moved out of her father's ranch,
married Zeke and began living at the house in Holly Springs.
Jerry and Judith changed the locks at the ranch and the post
office box during this time. Despite these circumstances,
Phoebe continued to manage her father's career.
married Judith in Natchez, Mississippi on March 9, 2012. On
or about that same date, Jerry advised Phoebe that he no
longer wanted her to act as his manager and sent a letter to
Blanchard Tual authorizing him to communicate with Sidney
Fohrman of Barnes and Thornburg, LLP in California regarding
his financial and legal matters. The following day, on March
10, 2012, Jerry revoked Phoebe's power of attorney. It is
undisputed that Phoebe has not taken any actions as her
father's manager nor has she received any income under
either the Management or Songwriter agreements since that
thereafter, in April of 2012, Moneypeny sent all files
related to Jerry's finances to Fohrman. Fohrman
subsequently emailed Tual and demanded that one hundred (100)
percent ownership of Pont Neuf be transferred from Phoebe to
Jerry. Later, in May of 2012, Jerry directed Tual to send
Fohrman all files related to his and Pont Neuf's
finances. As a result of these inquiries, Phoebe retained
Kizer Jones as counsel.
4, 2012, Fohrman advised Jones that he had been retained by
Jerry “to investigate all of his current business and
financial affairs, ” and that his investigation had
uncovered information that “give rise to a myriad of
tortious claims against [Phoebe].” The parties
proceeded to exchange settlement offers for two months, but
no settlement was reached. Then in December of 2012, Fohrman
advised that he no longer represented Jerry.
this tumultuous chain of events, tensions amongst the parties
appeared to be relaxing. The parties ceased discussing any
alleged legal matters or wrongdoing. In fact, Phoebe and Zeke
even attended Jerry and Judith's wedding anniversary
party in 2013.
in August of 2015, Zeke began posting negative statements
about Plaintiffs Jerry, Judith and Jerry's son,
Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant Jerry Lee Lewis, III (hereinafter
“Lee”), on his Facebook profile. Plaintiffs
subsequently retained counsel and sent Zeke a letter advising
that the posts were defamatory and requesting that they be
removed. Zeke obliged.
Zeke again began posting about Plaintiffs in August of 2016.
In these posts, Zeke alleges that Judith overmedicates Jerry
to the point that he is unaware of what is going on, and
further accuses Judith and Lee of exploiting Jerry and
spending all of his money. In general, the posts seemingly
accuse Judith and Lee of committing elder abuse.
August 11, 2017, Plaintiffs filed the instant suit in the
Chancery Court of DeSoto County, Mississippi. Defendants
promptly removed the action to this court on the basis of
diversity jurisdiction. In Plaintiffs' amended complaint,
Jerry asserts eleven claims arising out of the
father-daughter business relationship. Jerry, Judith and Lee
also assert claims for defamation and intentional infliction
of emotional distress against Zeke.
response, Phoebe and Zeke filed a counter-claim in which they
assert twelve claims against Judith and Lee for alleged
interference with Phoebe and Jerry's business
relationship. The parties now move for summary judgment on
all claims, arguing that no genuine issues of material fact
remain and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Courts place the burden upon the moving
party to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).
If the movant makes such a showing, the burden then shifts to
the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings and . . .
designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial.” Id. At 324. A genuine issue
exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the non-moving party.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view
the underlying facts in the “light most favorable to
the party opposing the motion.” United States v.
Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). As such, all
reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the
non-movant. Id. Before finding that no genuine issue
for trial exists, the court must first be satisfied that no
rational trier of fact could find for the non-movant.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). “Summary
judgment, although a ...