Manatt, Phelps & Phillips Settles 9-Year Malicious Prosecution Case Involving Princess Diana Fund

One of the largest malicious prosecution settlements ever nets $50 million earmarked for charity

Jan 21, 2011, 09:00 ET from Roll Global LLC

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 21, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Yielding one of the largest malicious prosecution damages ever, attorneys representing Stewart and Lynda Resnick today announced a settlement with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, the Los Angeles law firm that wrongfully sued the Resnicks, Roll International Corp. and The Franklin Mint 13 years ago for selling memorabilia bearing the likeness of Princess Diana.

The agreement comes eight months after a May ruling in California's 2nd District Court of Appeal that determined Manatt had no probable cause in its original trademark dilution and false advertising claims against the Resnicks and their companies.  

Today's $25 million settlement is in addition to a related settlement of $25 million in 2004 for the same claim with Manatt's client, The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund, which was distributed to several charities. The Resnicks will also donate the $25 million Manatt settlement to charity, including a number of public interest and legal ethics scholarships.    

"As noted in State Court of Appeal last May, Manatt's theory about false advertising and trademark dilution was not only untenable, but one that no reasonable attorney would take," said Stewart Resnick, Chairman of Roll Global, which sold The Franklin Mint in 2006. "In my opinion, that makes Manatt's claims nothing more than a baseless attempt at intimidation."

Resnick added that he fought Manatt because "it's important that someone take a stand against these types of threatening lawsuits that allow lawyers to abuse the legal system and inflict damage on everyone involved. We were committed to seeing this through to the end to prove the point that lawyers must have higher ethical standards and can't take advantage of companies solely to enrich themselves."

The settlement is the culmination of a series of legal actions that began with an unsuccessful lawsuit filed in 1998 by Manatt against the Resnicks and The Franklin Mint on behalf of its client, The Diana Fund, claiming false advertising and trademark dilution. 

While that suit was dismissed in 2000, the Resnicks six months later sued Manatt, firm partner Mark Lee and The Diana Fund for malicious prosecution, claiming that the suit was a deliberate attempt to weaken sales of Diana memorabilia. 

A series of subsequent rulings and appeals led to last May's Court of Appeals decision to allow the malicious prosecution arguments to be heard. In that ruling, Justice Thomas Willhite wrote for the majority that Manatt chose to prosecute a case that "no reasonable attorney" would have prosecuted, and that the firm disregarded "fundamental principles" of trademark law when building its trademark dilution and false advertising case against The Franklin Mint.    

Resnick said the Manatt case was never about shackling attorneys, as was asserted by dissenting Justice J. Mosk in last May's ruling, but an effort to strengthen legal precedent against such abusive lawsuits, and to help protect other businesses that may not have the resolve or the funds for a drawn out legal battle that cost his company, just for the malicious prosecution case, an estimated $7 million in legal fees and costs to fight.

"We never sought to gain financially from this effort, but we strongly believed in the underlying legal principles in this case and were prepared to see it through," he said. "We will be giving the entire damages settlement away to charity.  In this way, perhaps some good might come out of this unfortunate situation."

Resnick identified other charities who will benefit from the additional $25 million award, which will be administered through the Resnick Foundation, including the UCLA Medical Center, The Center for Food Law and Policy, Caltech, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the Venice Family Clinic and scholarships at UC Merced, among others.  

About Roll Global LLC

Roll Global LLC is a privately held holding company located in Los Angeles, California.  Among its holdings are Paramount Citrus, Paramount Farms and Paramount Farming Company, major growers and processors of citrus, almonds and pistachios; POM Wonderful, the largest grower of pomegranates and makers of the all-natural POM Wonderful pomegranate juice; Teleflora, the world's largest floral wire service; Suterra, a biorational pest control provider; Neptune Pacific Line, provider of liner and bulk shipping services in trades between Australia, New Zealand and Fiji; FIJI Water, one of the leading premium bottled water brands in the world; and Justin Vineyards, producing critically-acclaimed, estate grown and produced wines in the heart of the Paso Robles appellation.

SOURCE Roll Global LLC