Greene Archives v. Marilyn Monroe

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 08-30-2012
  • Case #: 08-56471; 08-56472; 08-56552
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wardlaw for the Court; Circuit Judge Goodwin and District Judge Sessions
  • Full Text Opinion

Judicial estoppel precludes a party from asserting California’s posthumous right of publicity where that party “consistently represented during probate proceedings and elsewhere that [the celebrity] was domiciled in New York to avoid payment of California estate taxes.”

This appeal stemmed from litigation regarding rights of publicity for Marilyn Monroe. Although Monroe died in California, her will was probated in New York. The executor of the will provided many affidavits confirming that it was Monroe’s desire to stay a resident of New York and that New York was her permanent residence. Based on this evidence, Monroe was considered to be domiciled in New York and her estate thereby avoided inheritance, estate, and income taxes in California. The executor and later Monroe LLC (a limited liability corporation that was funded by two beneficiaries of the will) maintained Monroe’s domicile as New York for more than 40 years. The issue in the present case arose when Greene Archives sued for the rights of publicity under a California statute that allowed the rights to be granted posthumously. Monroe LLC also sued for these rights. The district court concluded that judicial estoppel precluded Monroe LLC from bringing the suit, because, to gain the right to publicity under the statute, Monroe would have had to be domiciled in California, a position contrary to the one held by all of Monroe’s representatives since her death. The Ninth Circuit agreed that judicial estoppel precluded Monroe LLC from changing its position after 40 years. AFFIRMED.

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