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Lewis v. Loftin

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

April 25, 2019




         Presently 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 rule.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff 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.

         On July 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.

         During 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.[1] 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 royalties.

         Throughout 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 Jerry's finances.

         In 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.[2] Soon after meeting, the two began dating and Phoebe purchased a home in Holly Springs, Mississippi for him to reside.

         Sometime in 2011, Jerry and Judith became romantically involved. Soon after, Jerry and Judith visited the office of David Moneypeny, Plaintiff's tax attorney, [3] to review his and Pont Neuf's records. On May 16, 2011, Phoebe's attorney, Blanchard Tual, [4] 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.

         That 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.[5] Despite these circumstances, Phoebe continued to manage her father's career.

         Jerry 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 time.

         Shortly 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.

         On June 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.

         Following 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.

         However, 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.

         Nevertheless, 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.

         On 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.

         In 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 law.

         Standard of Review

         “The 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 (1986).

         When 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). ‚ÄúSummary judgment, although a ...

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