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Stone v. Williams

decided: December 5, 1989.

CATHY YVONNE STONE, AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HANK WILLIAMS, JR., BILLIE JEAN WILLIAMS BERLIN, CHAPPELL MUSIC COMPANY, A DIVISION OF CHAPPELL & CO., INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION, ABERBACH ENTERPRISES, LTD., A NEW YORK CORPORATION, ACUFF-ROSE OPRYLAND MUSIC, INC., A TENNESSEE CORPORATION, MILENE-OPRYLAND MUSIC, INC., A TENNESSEE CORPORATION, WESLEY H. ROSE AND ROY ACUFF, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TRUSTEES IN LIQUIDATION FOR STOCKHOLDERS OF FRED ROSE MUSIC, INC., AND MILENE MUSIC, INC., FRED ROSE MUSIC, INC., A TENNESSEE CORPORATION, AND MILENE MUSIC, INC., A TENNESSEE CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Petition for rehearing under Fed. R. App. P. 40 made by Cathy Yvonne Stone of this panel's decision in Stone v. Williams, 873 F.2d 620 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 58 U.S.L.W. 3301 (U.S. Nov. 7, 1989) (No. 89-295), that affirmed the grant of summary judgment dismissing appellant's complaint on the grounds of laches in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Keenan, J.). Petition for rehearing granted. Prior opinion vacated and case remanded to the district court. Original Opinion Reported at,.

Van Graafeiland, Cardamone, and Pierce, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cardamone

VAN GRAAFEILAND, CARDAMONE and PIERCE, Circuit Judges.

Opinion ON PETITION FOR REHEARING

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

Pursuant to an order entered August 24, 1989, granting her leave to file a petition for rehearing, Cathy Yvonne Stone petitions this panel under Fed. R. App. P. 40 for a rehearing. She had appealed from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Keenan, J.) granting summary judgment to defendants in an action plaintiff brought seeking her purported share of copyright renewal rights to songs composed by Hank Williams, Sr., her natural father. Defendants are the son and common-law wife of the late singer, and several individuals and corporations that are assignees of the copyrights to Hank Williams' songs. Judge Keenan ruled that plaintiff's claim was barred by laches. We affirmed the district court in an opinion dated April 21, 1989, Stone v. Williams, 873 F.2d 620 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 58 U.S.L.W. 3301 (U.S. Nov. 7, 1989) (No. 89-295).

The petition for rehearing of the appeal is granted. The April 21st opinion and judgment of this Court are vacated, and the matter is remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

I

At the time of plaintiff's appeal before us, she also had pending an appeal to the Supreme Court of Alabama where she sought to have her father's estate opened and to obtain her proportionate share of that estate. The defendants on that appeal included Irene Smith (Hank Williams' sister and the administratrix of his estate at the time plaintiff's claim to the estate was originally decided) and Robert Stewart (Williams' attorney). In order to achieve that ultimate relief, Ms. Stone necessarily also petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to set aside two orders entered in 1967 and 1968 by the Montgomery Circuit Court which, though acknowledging that Hank Williams was her natural father, declared that she was not an heir to his estate.

On July 5, 1989, the Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the trial court's award of summary judgment to defendants finding that they had intentionally, willfully and fraudulently concealed plaintiff's identity, existence, claim and rights as a natural child of Hank Williams, Sr. The court determined that defendants' fraud, along with other errors of law, presented sufficient grounds to set aside the 1967 and 1968 decrees that declared that plaintiff was not an heir to Williams' estate. This fraud, the court continued, excused plaintiff's delay in asserting her claim, and it held therefore chat plaintiff had asserted her rights timely. It further found substantial evidence in the record that could indicate to a factfinder that defendants fraudulently conspired to keep certain facts relating to plaintiff's existence, identity and potential claim concealed from the courts of Alabama.

A.

A brief review of some of the factual background is necessary to understand the present posture of the matter now before us. When the famous country and western singer Hank Williams died (a few days before plaintiff was born) his mother, Lillian Stone, legally adopted plaintiff. Hank Williams' sister, Irene Smith, had promised to care for plaintiff in the event that Lillian Stone was unable to. After Lillian Stone's death, Smith reneged on her promise, saying she wanted to avoid the "publicity and gossip" associated with the baby, and that it would be in the child's best interests to be put up anonymously for adoption. But a letter written earlier by Smith to attorney Stewart in 1954 suggests that Smith may have been motivated by more selfish reasons. Pertinent parts of that letter state:

The idea you have about making Billy [Hank Williams' reputed widow] a legal wife isn't bad at all but I fear that once you accept her as one she will try every trick in the book. I keep thinking about the time when it will be necessary to renew copyrights on Hank's songs, as his legal wife she will be the one to do that unless of course that is one of the rights she gives up. Somehow I just can't picture her giving anything up.

Thanks for sending the royalties check. It sure came in handy. . . . I want to thank you again for looking out for me. You know if mother adopts that child there will be a new will. Tee [Smith's husband] says that if she adopts it and then can't take care of it, he is not going to let me take it. Keep this under your hat, maybe [sic] it will never be necessary for me to have the child at all. I feel that poor child would have a lot better chance in this life if it were adopted by someone that would never know of its ...


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