Is Hairtech’s Paris Hilton Complaint a Joke?

Jokes are ubiquitous about the hair-extension endorsement imbroglio involving product purveyor, Hairtech International, and celebutante, Paris Hilton. Funny as hair extension products and Paris Hilton are, the complaint itself could be read as a joke, a spoof, a send-up of law. But it appears to be serious, which is sad.

The complaint was filed August 11, 2010, signed by a lawyer named Christopher Brainard, purportedly on behalf of Hairtech, against Paris and Rick Hilton, two companies they allegedly control—and 20 unnamed persons designated as John Doe to be identified later. It alleges fraud and deceit; breach of contract, along with a separate count for breach of contract law’s implied good faith covenant; unjust enrichment; and indebtiatus assumpsit (yes, in California, it appears this hoary common count endures, though anachronistic).

The complaint alleges that Hilton agreed in December 2006 to promote the company’s hair extension products exclusively, but lied about her intention to perform her contractual duties; didn’t show up for work once in June 2007 because she was in jail for drunk driving; abuses drugs that make her unfit as a product model; and exhibited competing products in media publicized in November 2008. The complaint attaches two contracts and an E tabloid pictorial under an August 17, 2010 date, showing Paris drunk. The complaint says the company has paid Paris $3.5 million and expected her proper performance to gross it $35 million or more. It wants the payment back, the losses reimbursed, and unspecified punitive damages on top.

The complaint is as bizarre as the story and people it portrays.

* The breach of contract claim (count one) makes assertions that would sustain a claim of promissory estoppel, not exactly a breach of contract.

* It mixes in with the contract breach claim a count of fraud, without manifesting anticipation of the subtleties and limits of combining a breach of contract claim with a fraud claim arising from identical acts.

* The complaint says the Hiltons, not Hairtech, drafted the contracts, though there’s little doubt, reading the elaborate documents, that lawyers for two business enterprises did the work.

* The complaint calls its claim for return of the $3.5 million allegedly advanced as one for rescission, though it’s more accurately classified as restitution; the complaint does nothing with its liability theory of unjust enrichment, while the natural thing to do with it is to claim that $3.5 million.  

* The complaint repeatedly desribes its claim to recover $35 million a claim for lost revenue.  But no principle in contract or other law recognizes such a category of damages. There’s a category of lost profits, if provable with reasonable certainty; even assuming the revenue figure is reliable, the valid claim would net a fraction of that.

*  The rescission claim throws in unelaborated and unfathomable grounds given the complaint’s allegations: mistake, duress, menace, fraud, deceit, non-disclosure, concealment and undue influence.

Other bizarre examples appear; in case you haven’t gotten the idea yet, here’s an excerpt giving a textual flavor of this pleading:

During the filming of other beauty product television commercials, beauty products were not able to be presented in conjunction with Paris Hilton due to her physical inability as a result of chemical abuse and due to the fact that her hair was facetted with competitors’ hair extensions which were not compatible with the brushes and beauty products to be promoted and otherwise not commercially presentable.

But the cake goes to the complaint’s claim on the common counts in indebtiatus assumpsit! The complaint hazards to explain this theory: 

Defendants became assumed [sic] the debt implicitly and became indebted by and through their actions stated herein in that they failed to provide consideration to Plaintiff.

The common counts that included assumpsit are still noted in many law school casebooks for historical perspective and because they’re embedded in ancient cases still valuable for other lessons. But this and all other common counts were abolished in England in the 1850s and the United States not much later. 

True, a dozen states, including California, where the complaint was filed, never formally abolished the count.  But the general civil action is the modern norm. With this complaint’s other claims for breach of contract (including the implicit claim for promissory estoppel), fraud, rescission (and restitution, though not called that) and unjust enrichment, assumptsit doesn’t seem strictly in sync.

 Maybe the complaint is a joke, really.  Given her family history and resources, there’s little question that lawyers Paris Hilton retains to answer it will have a few laughs.

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