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Estate Claims

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//June 17, 2024//

Estate Claims

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//June 17, 2024//

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: Lester Sumrall v. LeSEA, Inc.

Case No.: 23-2833

Officials: Scudder, St. Eve, and Pryor, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Estate Claims

The case centers on a dispute over the estate of Dr. Lester Frank Sumrall, founder of the global evangelical organization LeSEA, Inc. Following his death, his son and grandson, Lester Sumrall, claimed they were entitled to inherit part of his estate, including copyrights to his works and his right of publicity. They argued that LeSEA, now managed by other family members, had wrongfully assumed ownership of these assets.

The case was first heard in the Northern District of Indiana. The district court dismissed the claims brought by Lester Sumrall and the Lester Sumrall Family Trust against LeSEA and its affiliates, ruling in favor of LeSEA on all counts. The court determined that the copyright claims were filed too late and confirmed that LeSEA owned the copyright to the “Traveler Photo,” taken by Lester Sumrall. Additionally, the court dismissed various state law claims for damages under the doctrine of laches, citing an inexcusable delay in asserting rights and resulting prejudice to the opposing party.

Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court’s decision. The appellate court concurred that the copyright claims were untimely and that LeSEA owned the copyright to the Traveler Photo. It also affirmed the application of laches to the state law claims, noting that laches is equally applicable in Indiana suits at law. Lastly, the court dismissed the claim regarding LeSEA’s alleged use of Dr. Sumrall’s right of publicity, as the Trust failed to demonstrate the required half-ownership.

Affirmed.

Decided 06/10/24

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