A federal judge in Washington has ruled in favor of basketball star LeBron James in a lawsuit brought by a local lawyer who says he is James' father.
The lawsuit has garnered wide attention because of James' fame and because of the unusual nature of its claims. Leicester Bryce Stovell of Washington filed the lawsuit in June 2010, claiming he had a relationship with James’ mother in 1984.
Stovell, a former lawyer for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, hoped to get a new paternity test and asked for millions in damages. He said James and his mother, Gloria James, defamed his character and committed fraud in concealing the identity of the father.
In an opinion filed late today, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly granted a request by James and his mother to dismiss the case. The judge wrote that, among other problems, Stovell’s lawsuit failed to show that he had incurred any actual damages, such as lost commercial opportunities.
“Apparently, Stovell believes that companies are willing to pay him for being the father of LeBron James. However, any such recovery would be wholly speculative,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote in the 21-page opinion.
Another damage that Stovell claimed, loss of love and affection from his alleged son, is not a “recognizable form of damages in an action for common law fraud,” the judge wrote.
As for the claim that James and his mother defamed Stovell — by James saying, for example, “I want to be a better father than mine was” — Kollar-Kotelly disagreed. No one would have taken those statements at the time to refer to Stovell, even if he is the father, she wrote: “Statements disparaging ‘LeBron James’s father’ do not defame Stovell unless the people who heard them could have understood them as referencing Stovell.”
Stovell represented himself in the case. In an e-mail responding to a request for comment, he disagreed with the judge's opinion. "It, following defense counsel's lead, forces a very unusual set of facts alleged in the complaint into the mold of a 'typical case' in dismissing it, refusing to draw required reasonable inferences," he wrote. "However, [the] opinion and order leave open a number of legal options."
Frederick Nance, a partner at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, e-mailed a statement on behalf of James' legal team: "We respect and believe in our judicial system and it ultimately worked here to achieve the right result."
Updated at 10:59 p.m.