A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has rejected an attempt by Warner Bros. Records to escape a lawsuit by former drug kingpin “Freeway” Ricky Ross that alleges his name and identity were stolen by rapper Rick Ross.
“Freeway” Ross first brought the lawsuit in federal court, alleging $10 million in damages by Ross, Jay-Z, Def Jam, Universal Music Group, Vivendi and others over a commercial conspiracy where Ross was set-up to be a star using the aura of a man who ran a notorious drug empire that covered Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s. That lawsuit was knocked out of court when a judge decided he couldn’t legitimately show he has trademark rights to his name.
After re-filing his lawsuit in state court, plaintiff suffered another setback in March when a second judge decided that the statute of limitations has passed on publicity rights claims against UMG because the rapper had already become famous by 2005. (Ross is appealing.)
But on Tuesday, “Freeway” Ross’ separate claims against Warner Bros. Records survived a motion to dismiss and a demurrer when the judge pointed to a deal between the record label and rapper in 2011. According to a tentative ruling issued before the Tuesday hearing, the judge decided that the cause of action began to accrue no earlier than February 2011.
“Freeway” Ross was a big-name crime legend when he was sent to prison in 1995. At his height, he sold $2 million of drugs in a single day and his name got tossed around as part of the Iran-Contra scandal. Today, he’s out of prison and apparently reformed, counseling youth, but for a long time, he was an anti-hero in some urban circles.
William Leonard Roberts II became active in the music industry about a decade ago, and according to the original lawsuit, Jay-Z made it a priority to sign him. Roberts’ stage name became “Rick Ross” and he’s scored a number of recording successes off of chart-topping albums like Trilla, Deeper than Rap, and Teflon Don.
In February, 2011, Warner Bros. Records entered into a partnership with the rapper’s Maybach Music Group. “We were drawn to his hustle,” said Warner Bros. Records CEOTodd Moscowitz at the time.
The deal may or may not cause Warner Bros. Records to face “Freeway” Ross’ claims of publicity rights, false advertising, unjust enrichment, and unfair business practice.
The judge rejected statute of limitations as grounds to dismiss the lawsuit, but also said that the amended complaint does not contain allegations specific to the defendant.
“Freeway” Ross has been given 10 days to amend the lawsuit with new allegations, which he says will be “no problem.”
WBR has not responded to THR’s request for comment.