Olivia de Havilland v. FX Networks, LLC, et al.
Los Angeles, CA (June 30, 2017) – The day before her 101st birthday on Saturday, July 1, two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner, recently named by the Queen of England to a Damehood, Olivia de Havilland has filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Los Angeles against Los Angeles-based FX Networks, LLC and Ryan Murphy Productions, case number BC667011. Miss de Havilland, now Dame Olivia, who lives in Paris, is represented by Suzelle M. Smith and Don Howarth of the Los Angeles firm, Howarth & Smith.
The de Havilland lawsuit is based on the unauthorized commercial use of Dame Olivia’s name and identity in the FX hit series, “Feud: Bette and Joan.” The series purports to tell the story of a hostile relationship between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. In “Feud,” Catherine Zeta-Jones portrays Olivia de Havilland, appearing numerous times in most episodes of the series and in its extensive advertising campaign for FX. Every other main character whose identity is used in the series is deceased, as are all the other lead actors in the film classic, “Gone with the Wind,” in which Miss de Havilland starred as Melanie Hamilton.
Miss de Havilland was not asked by FX for permission to use her name and identity and was not compensated for such use. Further, the FX series puts words in the mouth of Miss de Havilland which are inaccurate and contrary to the reputation she has built over an 80-year professional life, specifically refusing to engage in gossip mongering about other actors in order to generate media attention for herself. FX and its partners appropriated Miss de Havilland’s name and identity and placed her in a false light to sensationalize the series and to promote their own businesses, including the FX network and brand, ignoring Miss de Havilland’s interests entirely.
“A living celebrity has the right to protect her name and identity from unauthorized, false, commercial exploitation under both common law and the specific ‘right to publicity’ statute in California,” stated Miss de Havilland’s attorney, Suzelle Smith, asserting that, “FX was wrong to ignore Miss de Havilland and proceed without her permission for its own profit.” Smith reported that Miss de Havilland believes FX’s actions raise important principles that go beyond her personally, and affect many other celebrities. Miss de Havilland is no stranger to controversy with the powerful Hollywood production industry. In 1943, as a young actress, she sued Warner Bros., and is recognized for breaking the studio indentured servant contract system with that action.
Howarth & Smith will be filing a motion seeking an expedited trial date due to Dame Olivia’s advanced age. At 101, she is the oldest recipient of the Queen’s honor of a Damehood, the female equivalent of a Knighthood.
Executive Risk Specialty Insurance Company v. Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff, Inc.
On February 14, 2014, Suzelle M. Smith argued an appeal before the Ninth Circuit in the Executive Risk Specialty Insurance Company v. Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff, Inc. case, representing a party who was denied the right to intervene in the District Court action. The Ninth Circuit panel consisted of the Honorable Joseph J. Farris, the Honorable N. Randy Smith, and the Honorable Paul J. Watford. The oral arguments are available online here and below.
Gunn Hill Dairy Properties, LLC, et al. v. Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, et al.
In 2012, Howarth & Smith won an interlocutory appeal reversing the trial court’s exclusion of plaintiffs’ veterinarian expert from testifying as to the harmful effects of stray electricity from Intermountain Power Plant on the local herds. A copy of the unanimous decision of the Utah Court of Appeals can be viewed here.
Dimeff, et al. v. The Estate of Cowan, et al.
In 2012, Howarth & Smith handled a case in the Alaskan Supreme Court concerning whether an Alaska Probate court had jurisdiction to decide betweeen disputed claims to over $2 million dollars that was held by the District Court for the Southern District of California. Ms. Smith's oral argument before the Supreme Court of Alaska can be viewed here.
Commonwealth v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc.
In 2010, the firm successfully defended Life Care Centers of America in a criminal trial in Boston, obtaining an acquittal from the jury, and before trial obtaining a 7/0 opinion from the Massachusetts Supreme Court on the novel "collective corporate intent" theory put forward by the Massachusetts Attorney General. The published opinion appears as Commonwealth v. Life Care Centers of America, Inc., 456 Mass. 826, 926 N.E.2d 206 (2010).