This week we decided to throwback to the infamous “Taco Bell Chihuahua Case” to shine a spotlight on the prospective Second Gentelman, Kamala Harris’s husband Douglas Emhoff.
Once upon a time, two developers of the “Psycho Chihuahua” cartoon accused Taco Bell of stealing their image. After Taco Bell released an advertising campaign featuring a conspicuously similar chihuahua, these two men sued, claiming that the parties attempted a prior advertising deal in 1996, and that Taco Bell ultimately stole their image, idea, etc. In 2003, a jury in U.S. District Court in Michigan awarded the developers a massive $30 million in damages and the judge tacked on $12 million more in interest. While this was obviously a huge award, Taco Bell allegedly made about half a Billion dollars from this very popular campaign.
Predictably, Taco Bell then sued their advertisement agency, TBWA, responsible for creating the “Taco Bell Chihuahua.” Taco Bell claimed that TBWA should have known about the similarities between the chihuahua image, and that their contract with TWBA indemnifies them from any infringement liability.
The case went to the dogs: attorneys for TWBA (Davis & Gilbert) disqualified Taco Bell’s lead counsel, Irell & Manella, proving that Irell represented TWBA in an unrelated matter at the same time. Arent Fox and Stein, Ray, & Harris took over “chihuahua duty.” And, Mayer Brown did some work at the district court level but dropped out before Taco Bell commenced the appeal.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH KAMALA HARRIS? Very little, but this is still fun trivia for legal nerds. Venable partner and Kamala Harris’s now-husband, Douglas Emhoff, also represented TBWA in front of the circuit court.
In 2009, Taco Bell reached its final chapter when a unanimous three-judge panel ruled in favor of TBWA, stating that Taco Bell had their own liability in this case, and could not simply “pawn off” the $42 million damage award.