Playwright's lawsuit against Dr. Seuss company is narrowed

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 07, 2017 8:05 PM

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday dismissed part of a playwright's lawsuit against the owner of copyrights to Dr. Seuss' works, after it objected to how his new play might have infringed the classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan did not address Matthew Lombardo's main claim that his play "Who's Holiday!" was so different from "Grinch" that it constituted "fair use."

But he dismissed the New York playwright's claim accusing Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP of "tortious conduct," including defamation, for sending "derogatory" cease-and-desist letters casting doubt on his play, which was to open Off Broadway in November before its run was canceled.

"Nothing in plaintiffs' complaint or in the letters themselves suggest that defendant acted for a wrongful purpose or used wrongful means when sending the letters," or sent them to disrupt Lombardo's business dealings, Hellerstein wrote.

Essentially, Lombardo said he was hurt by a tort, a type of private wrong, but the judge said that in his court, the claim does not belong.

A lawyer for the plaintiff did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"Grinch" is about a grouchy, cave-dwelling monster who decides to end Christmas, but has a change of heart after being interrupted by Cindy Lou, a little girl.

In contrast, the Cindy Lou in "Who's Holiday!" is a profane 45-year-old woman who spent time in prison for murdering the Grinch, who had been her husband and fathered her daughter.

Lombardo is also seeking more than $130,000 of damages, including costs for his play's cancellation, in the lawsuit.

The case is Lombardo et al v Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 16-09974.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)