Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Judge Green dismisses Help lawsuit. (Video)

Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green dismissed Ablene Cooper's lawsuit against The Help author Katie Stockett this morning. Judge Green ruled the statute of limitations for intentional infliction of emotional distress expired and Ms. Cooper had no recourse, even if the tort did occur. Kathryn Stockett did not attend the hearing in the spacious courtroom. Reporter Emeritus Jerry Mitchell even attended the hearing, lending an air of solemnity to the proceedings although the reporters from WJTV did their best to imitate two kids at McDonald's playland with their unprofessional behavior.

Ablene Cooper filed suit against Kathryn Stockett, the author of The Help, for $75,000 in damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress, in Hinds County Circuit Court on February 11, 2011. Ms. Cooper worked as a maid in the home of Ms. Stockett's brother and also "served as a babysitter" for his child.

Ms. Cooper alleges she asked Ms. Stockett not to use her "name and likeness" in the novel and Ms. Stockett refused. Ms. Cooper claims "It has been emotionally upsetting and highly offensive to Ablene to be falsely portrayed in 'The Help' as an African-American maid in Jackson, Mississippi who uses this kind of language and compares her skin color to a cockroach" and that her "portrayal of Ablene in such a false light is highly offensive to a reasonable person." Ms. Cooper also states Ms. Stockett still refuses to acknowledge her misappropriation of Ms. Cooper's identity and treatment of her as well.

Ms. Stockett filed a motion for summary judgment on April 14, 2011. Ms. Stockett argued most, if not all, of Ms. Cooper's claims are barred by the statute of limitations. Ms. Cooper filed her lawsuit two years after publication of The Help. Ms. Stockett argues the torts of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress are subject to a statute of limitations period of one year. Ms. Stockett also claims the novel is not about Ms. Cooper but "is about a matter of public concern", race relations. Ms. Stockett opines to the court there is no way anyone could mistake the Abilene character for the real-life Ablene. She states "the first names are spelled differently", "the last names are different", and the character would be 102 years old today and thus no one would mistake a 102 year old lady for a middle-aged woman. Ms. Stockett also trots out the expected free speech arguments, again arguing the book is about a matter of "public concern" and is entitled to "special protection" under the first amendment. Ms. Stockett is represented by Fred Banks, a highly-esteemed lawyer who was the second black Justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Ms. Cooper responded with an answer to Ms. Stockett's motion filed on April 27. She claimed Ms. Stockett "fraudulently induced" her to "believe The Help was no big deal and the book was rejected no less than sixty times. The response includes a quotes from an 2009 interview (last page of documents posted below) with the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

"When I was writing this book I never thought anyone else would read it, so I didn't get real creative with the names. I just used people I knew. Some of them aren't talking to me right now, but I feel like they'll come around...."

"I was terrified when I realized it was going to be published

Needless to say, Ms. Cooper used this statements to argue Ms. Stockett was terrified because she allegedly misappropriated identities and would be found out after publication. The rest of the response merely restates the alleged injuries and damages outlined in the complaint and Ms. Cooper's affidavit (The two documents are included in the linked posts below.).

The war of the motions continued in Ms. Stockett's reply to Ms. Cooper's reply to her reply to Ms. Cooper's lawsuit (sorry, could not resist). It argued Ms. Cooper "does not dispute the material facts" - one of them being the book was published before February 10, 2009. Ms. Stockett uses that date to argue the statute of limitations of one year had expired, thus depriving Ms. Cooper of her ability to sue. Ms. Stockett claims Ms. Cooper was put on notice when the author sent her a free copy of the book and said she told Ms. Cooper "her favorite character in the book was an African-American child-carer names Abileen who was born in 1911" and the character was based on Demetrie McLorn. Ms. Stockett states no concealment occurred and there was no "plan" to keep the plaintiff in the "dark about the contents of the novel." Indeed, Ms. Stockett calls Aibileen the heroine of the novel and one who is not demeaned in anyway by her portrayal.

Judge Green appeared in the courtroom without a copy of Leaves of Grass in her hand. She spoke in regular voice, avoiding the use of rhyme or iambic pentameter. Green immediately brought up the issue of whether the statute of limitations had expired. The jurist made a big deal out of the fact the author sent Ms. Cooper a copy of the book after the plaintiff's lawyer admitted she received a copy of the book in January 2009 from the author but then argued she was misled by Ms. Stockett's words and actions. He argued Ms. Stockett did not tell her the book was set in Jackson, did not mention the cockroach reference, and said the character was based on her favorite maid, Demetri.

The counsel for Ms. Cooper argued under a discovery rule a jury should determine whether the statute of limitations had expired. Judge Green replied "she does not have to be told and the issue was "when she should have known, not when she actually found out." "She may very well be the character" but that there was no "concealment" and "she could have read it". Judge Green ended her remarks by stating "your client had the information she needed to file" and dismissed the case.

Reaction of Ms. Cooper to decision:

Note: Here is


Anonymous said...

Dang. Really wanted her to win this thing.

Anonymous said...

saw them crying on the c-l website. took me awhile to process that and then it dawned on me. they're distraught b/c now they have to figure out how to repay that money they borrowed from counting those chickens in the eggs

stilettoGOP said...

Whoa, just saw the video of Cooper leaving the courthouse. Lock your doors, Ms. Stockett.

Anonymous said...

No poem for the victims? Lame.

Kingfish said...

If Ms Stockett were here, what would she say.......

Anderson said...

On the sidelines, John Grisham marvels at how his next bestseller is virtually writing itself!

Shadowfax said...

I know this hurt Miz Green's heart.

Anonymous said...

anon 2:20 - looks like some feeble minded lawyer owes someone an apology for coming up with some dumbass idea to sue someone for the easy money

Anderson said...

Unfortunately, the more Cooper insists that it was totally obviously her, the more she succumbs to the question, "why didn't you file suit right after the book came out?"

Anonymous said...

anon 4:10
Exactly what decent lawyer would not know that first and foremost?

Not a lawyer and I don't play one on TV.

Anderson said...

"Decent" "lawyer"?

Could you explain, please? ;)

Anonymous said...

decent=feeble minded???

Anonymous said...

I'm certain this lawyer will find a way to get a new car out of this. He will find some obscure angle and settle out of court for $50K, split it with the mark and visit Gray-Daniels.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Cooper certainly didn't acquit herself very well in her long walk to the car. Her son didn't do her any favors either.

One thought: this is the proper resolution for what many of you would call a "frivolous lawsuit". Obviously, the judge determined that the claim was brought out of time and/or did not have sufficient merit to try and find a continuing tort and extend the statute of limitations. The defendant believed in the law, and it carried the day for her.

I think that justice was served in this case, and the system worked the way that it is supposed to.

Andrew M. Newcomb

Anonymous said...

The white lady won in TG's court? Hell has surely frozen over.

Anonymous said...

Decent Lawyer.........................................uh......................well...............you see.................damn............my bad!

Anonymous said...

yes i agree Andrew M. Newcomb! Lets get some order back in this world!!

Anonymous said...


Shadowfax said...

Tomie Greene would have eaten a turd a mile long to be able to escape the obvious requirement of observing the limitations statute. Frankly she had no option once someone called it to her attention. Here's a copy of the poem she slipped to the plaintiff:

Baby it sho hurts my heart,
You know I tried to do my part.

Like you, I wanted to see the bitch pay.
And I tried my best to make yo day.

I had visions of you at Barksdale's Riegeland lot,
You so deserve half of what that bitch done got.

But sweetness, it just ain't to be,
It's just the law. It sho ain't up to me.

stilettoGOP said...

Shadowfox--- COMMENT OF THE DAY!!!

Barksdale, funny stuff..

stilettoGOP said...

My bad..just noticed it's "shadowfAx"..? what's that.

Anonymous said...

I think my main point was simply that many people who believe the justice system needs more "tort reform" to prevent "frivolous lawsuits" should view the result reached in this case, and observe that the court system has very effective checks and balances to prevent a case with little merit from moving forward.

Reducing Plaintiffs' access to the courts further hurts everyone. Our system works well, as in this case.

Andrew M. Newcomb

Curt Crowley said...

Harvard Law School, Class of 2009.


Shadowfax said...

It matters not, steeltoe. ;-]

Sorry for misspelling Ridgeland.

Anderson said...

I have not yet found 20 minutes in which to view the hearing.

Anyone (Curt?) know why the negligent-infliction count got tossed too, with a 3-year SOL?

Anonymous said...

I guess she was the only black woman with a gold tooth that worked for white people, so it had to be her. Come to think of it, I'm a black man that drove a little old white lady around town. That's it! I going after Alfred Uhry for $9750.00! I've got my eye on this sweet 87 Crown Vic with 22" dubs!!!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Ms. Cooper should have gotten her a black attorney. Judge Green sent a clear message.

Anonymous said...

If she sees how " her name" character is portrayed in the movie, perhaps she'll be less upset. The character was equally heroic in the book which convinces me it wasn't Mrs. Green. Who apparently is still manipulated by the white folk.

It's the law suit that makes Mrs. Green look bad.

Cooking with creative ingredients is mild compared to murdering the Hilly character ...which is what all readers and movie audiences would see as justifiable homicide.

Anonymous said...

The differences are clear, Aibileen from the movie is not an opportunist.

Kingfish said...

You know, if someone had told me the book was not about me and gave me a copy of the book.................

Anonymous said...

and then you heard that they pulled in 36 million dollars in the first week of the movie not based on you.

"do you know anyone named abilene?"

"do you know anyone named abilene?"

"do you know anyone named abilene?"

I am reminded of that Four Seasons song.....

So close and yet so faaaaar

Anonymous said...

36 million in just the first week, wow ! ! !

i bet Ablene Cooper is just beside herself. and to think she has suffered all that pain and suffering on top of knowing that all that money is being made by someone not named Ablene with a gold star tooth

Shadowfax said...

@Andrew Newcomb; just who do you suggest is "Reducing Plaintiffs' access to the courts". They line up six deep and five wide most mornins. As long as 'all eights' and 'for the people' commercials air every six minutes, access will be guaranteed. Mayhaps you just need a more creative ad writer.

Anonymous said...

Her and The Main Character (Viola Davis) sure do resemble. Maybe it's just a coincidence they picked her. Just Sayin.

Rebekah said...

Isn't "decent lawyer" an oxymoron? Just kidding...
Glad this bogus case was thrown out...because that is what it was..bogus

Anonymous said...

Did anyone catch that dumba## lawyers argument that the limitation clock should not start ticking until Cooper "got around to reading the book"? gads, dumb & dumber!

Anonymous said...

Shadowfax, my point was that the justice system works well as it is currently constructed. I was using this result as an example.

Many people aren't aware of the many procedural steps that weed out lawsuits that are without merit. Summary judgment is a good example of that, as in Ms. Cooper's case.

My initial comment was simply to point out a positive result in the court system among a group (KF's audience by and large) who doesn't believe the system works, or that it needs "reform".

I don't really know what to make of your reference to t.v. ads promoting lawyers as "guaranteeing access" to the courtrooms. Getting an attorney has nothing to do with legislation passed by the federal and state governments to limit time, liability and damages in a way that harms consumers and individuals.

I don't think that t.v. ads do any favors for lawyers, by the way. In fact, t.v. ads are one of the things that turn the public against lawyers.

Also, lining up six deep and five wide, as you phrased it, is the right of every American. You'd apparently have that right taken away until you needed it, I presume.

I don't really need an ad writer; I'm not advertising.

Andrew M. Newcomb

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry that the lawsuit was dismissed. I recognized some of the names mentioned in the book, so I have no doubt that KS didn't change the names enough. And it wasn't like Ms. Cooper was asking for millions, she was asking for a resonable amount of money.

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