August 13, 2015

Jenner & Block won a victory for the Estate of Elaine Steinbeck, the late wife of renowned novelist John Steinbeck, and all of its beneficiaries,  when a judge dismissed with prejudice the latest copyright lawsuit filed by Steinbeck’s biological son and granddaughter, Thomas, and Blake Smyle. They  had sued John Steinbeck’s stepdaughter, who is the executor of Elaine’s Estate, and the Estate’s beneficiaries for declaratory judgment,  copyright infringement and breach of contract . Thomas Steinbeck and Blake Smyle are both descendants of the author’s second wife. At issue was a 1983 settlement that gave Elaine complete authority over the works of John Steinbeck in exchange for an increased portion of the royalties, and Thom and Blake’s exercise of  certain termination rights under the copyright laws.  After Elaine died in 2003, her daughter (the Estate’s Executor and one of the beneficiaries) took over control of the rights. At that time, Thom attempted to exercise certain termination rights under the copyright laws that set off several lawsuits that Jenner & Block successfully litigated on behalf of Elaine’s Estate and its beneficiaries. 

“Plaintiffs have litigated these claims ad nauseum,” wrote US District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. in dismissing the recent claims.  Partner Susan J. Kohlmann led the team representing Elaine’s Estate and its beneficiaries. The Estate has filed a countersuit alleging that Thomas Steinbeck, his wife, Gail Steinbeck, and their company, Palladin Group Inc., have interfered with and impaired the Estate’s exploitation of the Steinbeck works . A final pretrial conference in that suit is currently scheduled for March 2016. 

Ms. Kohlmann is quoted in the Daily Journal saying, “We are gratified with the court’s decision and we look forward to finally putting an end to all these years of litigation satisfactorily.”  In addition to Ms. Kohlmann, the team included Partners Andrew. J. Thomas and Steven R. Englund; Associates Alison I. Stein, Jason P. Hipp and Ava U. McAlpin; and paralegals Casey Connolly and Judy Lao.