Sumrall v. LeSEA, Inc.

Judge: ST.EVE
Opinion Date: June 12, 2024

The case revolves around a dispute over the estate of Dr. Lester Frank Sumrall, who founded a church that grew into a global evangelical empire, LeSEA, Inc. After his death, his son and grandson, Lester Sumrall, claimed they should have inherited part of his estate, including copyrights to his works and his right of publicity. They alleged that LeSEA, now controlled by other family members, had wrongfully taken ownership of these assets.

The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for 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 found that the copyright claims were untimely and that LeSEA owned the copyright to a particular photograph, the “Traveler Photo,” taken by Lester Sumrall. The court also dismissed various state law claims for damages under the doctrine of laches, citing inexcusable delay in asserting rights and prejudice to the adverse party.

Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision. The appellate court agreed that the copyright claims were untimely and that LeSEA owned the copyright to the Traveler Photo. The court also upheld the application of laches to the state law claims, noting that laches is equally applicable in suits at law in Indiana. Finally, the court dismissed the claim for LeSEA’s alleged use of Dr. Sumrall’s right of publicity, as the Trust failed to plead the required half-ownership. View “Sumrall v. LeSEA, Inc.” on Justia Law

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