6 of the strangest lawsuits making headlines

The following lawsuits exemplify the lighter, and sometimes bizarre, side of the legal world.

Faux Fruit

First we learned that SunChips might not be all natural. Next came the shocking revelation that Nutella is not a health food. Now a California woman is suing General Mills Inc., alleging that its Fruit Roll-Ups and Fruit by the Foot snacks are not made with real fruit.

Annie Lam took issue with the snacks’ supposedly deceptive packaging, which claims that the treats are “made with real fruit.” She specifically targeted the company’s strawberry-flavored Fruit Roll-Ups, which contain “pears from concentrate” in lieu of real strawberries. Lam is seeking class action status for the claim.

Onerous Omission

Many of the people portrayed in “The Social Network” were less than thrilled to see themselves on the big screen. Proving that the grass really is greener on the other side, former Harvard student Aaron Greenspan sued Columbia Pictures earlier this year, claiming that the studio defamed him by leaving him out of the 2010 film.

Greenspan, a classmate of Mark Zuckerberg wrote an unpublished autobiography in which he claimed to have created an early social networking site called “the Face Book.” He says that Columbia committed “defamation by omission” when it ignored his role in Facebook’s founding. Greenspan also alleged that the film and “The Accidental Billionaires,” the book upon which it is based, infringed on his autobiography.

But U.S. magistrate Judge Robert Collings didn’t buy Greenspan’s unique definition of defamation and dismissed the suit this week.


Climate Controversy

Lawyer, speechwriter and game show host Ben Stein has taken on a new title: litigant. Stein says he accepted a $300,000 deal to appear in a series of commercials for Japanese printer manufacturer Kyocera Mita, only to have the company back out when it discovered that he does not believe in global warming.

According to Stein, he told the Kyocera that he cares about the environment, but that he believes “God, and not man, controlled the weather.” He sued Kyocera on nine charges, including breach of contract and infliction of emotional distress.

Judge Elizabeth Allen White ruled that the company “had a constitutional right not to be associated with [Stein]” and dismissed eight of the nine charges.

Racy Reporter

A former Houston Chronicle reporter who lost her job when the newspaper discovered she also was a stripper has filed a gender discrimination complaint against the paper.

The Chronicle fired society reporter Sarah Tressler after her second job became the subject of a feature story by another paper. According to Tressler’s complaint, an editor told her she was being fired because she did not disclose her stripping in her job application. But, as she pointed out, “There was no question on the form that covered my dancing.”

Gloria Allred, Tressler’s attorney, said that the firing constitutes gender discrimination because “most exotic dancers are female.”

© Noemi Nuñez

Beyoncé’s Blunder

Singer Beyoncé Knowles has been hit with a multimillion dollar lawsuit, and this time she can’t blame Sasha Fierce. Video game developer Gate Five alleges that the star inked a $20 million deal to appear in a game entitled “Starpower: Beyoncé,” only to walk away three days before Gate Five was to obtain financing. The company, which reportedly fired 70 employees as a result of the broken contract, wants $100 million in compensation.

Justice Charles Ramos ruled last week that the suit can proceed, and he had some harsh words for the singer’s lawyers. “You continue to negotiate right up until the time you pull the plug. That is not going to work with me,” he said.

© Mario Casciano

Copyright Clash

You may not recognize Victor Willis’s name, but if you’ve ever danced along to “Y.M.C.A.” you owe him a debt of gratitude. As the cop from the 1970s band the Village People, Willis co-wrote the disco anthem, along with several of the band’s other hits, including “In the Navy” and “Go West.”

Last year, Willis invoked “termination rights,” a copyright provision allowing singers and songwriters to reclaim the rights to their work after 35 years have passed. Scorpio Music and Can’t Stop Productions, the songs’ publishers, argued that Willis could not regain his share of the songs because the other co-authors had not also sought termination.

But a California judge agreed with Willis, ruling that the singer is entitled to his share of the hits. As the New York Times notes, the ruling could open the door for other 70s artists such as Bruce Springsteen and The Eagles to regain ownership of their early work regardless of their original contracts.

Alanna Byrne

Bio and more articles

Join the Conversation

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.