Warner Bros. Can’t Dodge Ex-Drug Lord’s Beef With Rick Ross
Law360, New York (July 17, 2012, 7:41 PM ET) — A California state judge on Tuesday tentatively kept alive part of a lawsuit against Warner Bros. Records Inc. alleging that rapper Rick Ross had misappropriated the name and identity of former drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross, ruling that the statute of limitations hadn’t expired.
In a hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning, a judge found that Warner Bros. could not dismiss the suit from former drug trafficker Ricky Ross because there was evidence that the record company and the rapper – who goes by Rick Ross but whose real name is William Leonard Roberts II – had entered into an agreement in February 2011. This means the suit was not time-barred as Warner Bros. had claimed, according to an emailed statement from the former drug kingpin.
The judge said, however, that the complaint currently makes no allegations specifically against the record company and would have to be amended to do so if the case was to continue. The court granted the former drug trafficker 10 days to amend the complaint, which Ross said in the statement was “no problem.”
The ruling follows a March decision by Judge Rita Miller to toss the former drug trafficker’s suit against Roberts and UMG Recordings Inc. Rapper Jay-Z, The Island Def Jam Music Group and Maybach Music Group – which was founded by Roberts and is currently affiliated with Warner Bros. – were also listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
“Whereas earlier this year the judge said I was too late and past statute of limitations in filing against [UMG], she has found that I can proceed against Warner Bros. Records,” Ross said.
Warner Bros. could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday, nor could an attorney for Ross.
The March dismissal ruling hinged on the dissemination of the rapper’s first hit single, “Hustlin’,” which received significant radio play beginning in September 2005 and alerted Ross, who was in prison at the time, that his name was being used commercially. Ross said that each album the rapper released constituted a separate publication and therefore restarted the statute of limitations, but Judge Miller disagreed.
Ross was one of the most successful drug traffickers in the United States during the 1980s, claiming in court documents that at the height of his power he had amassed an estimated net worth of $600 million.
Ross was arrested in 1995 after attempting to purchase cocaine from a federal agent, and served nearly 15 years in prison before being released in September 2009. He now touts himself as a reformed man, saying on his website that he is dedicated to mentoring youths.
Ross first sued the rapper in June 2010 in California federal court, alleging misappropriation. A judge ultimately dismissed that complaint, saying that Ross didn’t own trademark rights in his name and couldn’t claim such rights based on allegations of illegal drug trafficking, according to a brief filed by the defendants.
The former drug kingpin lodged the California state court suit in December 2010, alleging false advertising, unjust enrichment, unfair business practice, and common-law claims of misappropriation of name and identity and rights of publicity.
Ross is represented by John D. Younesi and Jan A. Yoss of Younesi & Yoss LLP.
Counsel information for Warner Bros. was not immediately available.