Soundgarden File Motion to Dismiss Chris Cornell’s Widow’s Lawsuit

UPDATED: The surviving members of Soundgarden (Kim Thayil, Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd) today filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed against them by Vicky Cornell on December 9, in which she alleged the group owes Cornell’s estate hundreds of thousands of dollars in allegedly unpaid royalties and the rights to seven unreleased recordings made before the singer’s death in May of 2017.

The group, claiming that “We don’t have possession of our own creative work,” stated that “Vicky Cornell has possession of the only existing multi-track recordings of the last Soundgarden tracks that include Chris Cornell’s instrumental parts and vocals. All of the band members jointly worked on these final tracks, Vicky now claims ownership of the final Soundgarden album.”

Other elements of the group’s response include that all of the bandmembers, not just Cornell, are owe monies, but none of them will be paid until “expenses are paid and the partnership shares of earnings can be calculated and distributed”; that “during what Soundgarden felt were productive and amicable conversations trying to find a way to work with Vicky, the complaint was initiated without notice”; and that her “complaint alleges that the band members behaved callously at the time of Chris Cornell’s death. This is patently false and emotionally abusive.”

In a response, Marty Singer, an attorney for Vicky Cornell, wrote: “We obviously disagree with the band’s blatant mischaracterization of events, and stand by the truthful facts set forth in our complaint.  It is disappointing that Chris’ former band members have now sought to taint his legacy by making numerous false allegations, and that they continue to withhold substantial monies from his widow and minor children (despite using those same funds to pay for their own legal fees).  The issue in this case is not who wrote the songs but rather who owns the specific recordings made solely by Chris while he resided in Florida.  We are very confident that the Court will vindicate the rights of Chris’ Estate, and that the case will properly remain in Florida, where Chris resided and recorded the songs that are now the lawful property of his Estate.”

Cornell is represented by high-profile Hollywood lawyers Singer — who has been described by the Los Angeles Times as a “pit bull” for people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Sharon Stone and Jeff Bezos — and James Sammataro, and announced the lawsuit via a TMZ article forwarded to Variety by reps for the estate. The bandmembers, Kim Thayil, Ben Shepard and Matt Cameron (the latter of whom is also a member of Pearl Jam) recently parted ways with longtime Soundgarden attorney Peter Paterno and manager Ron Lafitte, who had worked with the band since they reformed in 2010.

Thayil was singled out in the documents for comments he has recently made about his frustration over not being able to finish and release recordings made by Cornell and the bandmembers before the singer’s death in May of 2017, which was ruled a suicide. She called it an “unlawful attempt to strong-arm Chris’ Estate into turning over certain audio recordings created by Chris before he passed away.” She says the songs in question were “solely authored by Chris; contain Chris’ own vocal tracks; and were bequeathed to Chris’ Estate” for the benefit of her and their kids.”

The bandmembers have claimed they cowrote some of the songs and in a letter to Vicky Cornell said “The entire band was feeling very positive about their rekindled artistic energy and creativity” before Cornell’s death. Vicky claims she has offered to share the recordings with the group and help facilitate their release “in a way that respects Chris’ wishes,” but says the band refused. She also claims Thayil has endangered her family by claiming she is blocking the release of an album from the recordings.

Vicky Cornell blasted the bandmembers in a dramatically worded Instagram post that did not specifically mention the lawsuit but references in part, “Hard-hearted family members, friends, and business associates; who will exploit a widow’s vulnerability when she’s broken and alone. These other people who have decided that her time is up as well.”

A leading light of the Seattle “grunge” scene, Soundgarden formed in 1984 and enjoyed global success via songs like “Black Hole Sun” and “Outshined” before splitting in 1997. Cornell embarked on a sporadically successful solo career before reuniting with the other members in 2010; the band was on tour and had played a concert in Detroit when the singer hung himself in his hotel room on May 18, 2017. While he had suffered from depression and substance abuse at various times in his life, Vicky Cornell has blamed his suicide on prescription medications he was taking at the time of his death and last year sued his doctor for malpractice.

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