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October 14, 2010 4:34 PM

Jenner Wins Appeal for John Steinbeck's Wife's Estate

Posted by Ross Todd

Talk about wrath. On Wednesday, just five days after hearing oral arguments, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a lower court's dismissal of all claims brought by descendants of John Steinbeck against the heirs of Elaine Steinbeck, the author's third wife and widow who died in 2003. The decision allows Elaine Steinbeck's estate to retain authority over the famous author's later works, such as Cannery Row, The Pearl, East of Eden, and Travels With Charley.

Wednesday's Second Circuit decision stems from a 2004 suit brought by Steinbeck's son Thomas and granddaughter Blake Smyle against Elaine Steinbeck's estate and the literary agency McIntosh & Otis. The plaintiffs brought claims including breach of fiduciary duty, tortious conduct, and fraud against the estate over multiple contracts pertaining to the copyrights to Steinbeck's works.

Jenner & Block Partner Susan Kohlmann, who represents the Elaine Steinbeck estate, told The Am Law Daily that oral arguments in the case were heard Friday, and by Wednesday the Second Circuit panel had handed down its 15-page summary order affirming the dismissal of the case. Kohlmann added that two members of the panel were very familiar with the case: They had sat on an earlier panel that ruled in her client's favor in August 2008, when a separate portion of the case came before the Second Circuit.

We reached out to the plaintiffs' lead lawyer at Baker & McKenzie, partner Jennifer Semko, but did not hear back. On Wednesday Semko told Reuters, "What is most disappointing to [my clients] is that they never received their day in court, including an opportunity to present their concerns to a jury."

McIntosh & Otis was represented in the case by Davis Wright Tremaine partner Elizabeth McNamara.

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