Judge Throws Out Suit Against 'The Help' Author
Case against Kathryn Stockett dismissed because statute of limitations elapsed
HOLBROOK MOHR Associated Press
August 16, 2011
For now, that question may go unanswered, by a court anyway.
A Mississippi judge threw out a lawsuit Tuesday in which Ablene Cooper alleged Stockett used her likeness without permission in a book about relationships between white families and their black maids in the segregated South of the 1960s.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green granted a motion for summary judgment, dismissing the case because a one-year statute of limitations elapsed between the time when Stockett gave Cooper a copy of the book and when the lawsuit was filed. The lawsuit sought $75,000 in damages.
Stockett was not in court in Jackson, the same city where the book is set.
Cooper wiped away tears leaving the courtroom and went on an emotional rant outside the courthouse.
"She's a liar. She did it. She knows she did it," Cooper screamed.
The judge did not make any determination on whether Cooper was the basis for the character, Aibileen, saying the statute of limitations trumped those matters.
Besides the similarities in names, Cooper's lawsuit says she lost a son shortly before going to work for Stockett's brother, where she takes care of two children, a boy and a girl. Cooper's lawsuit says that's the same as the character portrayed in the book.
Cooper's attorney, Edward Sanders, told The Associated Press he will consider the legal options available, including an appeal.
Melissa Broder, Stockett's publicist, has no comment.
"The Help" was made into a movie that opened last week. It debuted at No. 2 nationwide, bringing in $26 million.
The lawsuit says Stockett's refusal to admit that she based the character on Cooper's likeness "is so outrageous in character, and so extreme as to go beyond all bounds of human decency, and is utterly intolerable in a civilized community."
The suit also says that during a 2009 interview with The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Stockett said: "When I was writing this book I never thought anyone else would read it, so I didn't get real creative with the names. I just used people I knew. Some of them aren't talking to me right now, but I feel like they'll come around."
Cooper said she's been embarrassed and distraught by the language used by the character that she says is based on her.
"You see how I'm hurt? You know I'm hurt," Cooper said outside the courthouse.
The lawsuit quotes passages from the book, including one in which Aibileen's character describes a cockroach: "He black. Blacker than me."
The lawsuit says Cooper found it upsetting and highly offensive to be portrayed as someone "who uses this kind of language and compares her skin color to a cockroach."
Cooper's lawyer acknowledged in court that Stockett gave her a copy of the book in January 2009, about a month before it was published. The lawsuit was filed in February 2011.
Sanders, Cooper's lawyer, said a note Stockett wrote to Cooper falsely implied the book had nothing to do with Cooper, so she didn't read it until later. Sanders argued that the statute of limitations should have begun later, when Cooper eventually read the book.
The judge was not persuaded.