Court: Frazier can't sue tribe

Updated: October 9, 2009, 2:17 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Frazier cannot sue the Oneida Indian Nation over the use of his picture to promote a fight at a casino because of the tribe's sovereign status.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said Thursday that Frazier, listed in court records with the alias "Smokin' Joe," will have to take his dispute with the operator of the Turning Stone Casino to the tribe's own court.

The appeals court noted that the tribe's trial and appellate court system includes two former New York Court of Appeals judges.

Frazier sued the tribe in 2002, saying it used his picture without permission to promote a June 2001 boxing match between his daughter, Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, and the daughter of Muhammad Ali, Laila Ali. Laila Ali won the bout.

Frazier attended the fight, where he saw an allegedly unauthorized picture of himself, his daughter, and Muhammad Ali at a blackjack table in the casino, according to court records.

Frazier's lawsuit had sought $7 million in compensatory damages and $9 million in punitive damages, saying he suffered "extreme emotional damage" from the photos.

According to the lawsuit, Frazier has never let anyone use his likeness to promote commercial gambling. It said the casino and tribe "knowingly, intentionally, maliciously and unjustly profited from their improper commercial advertising."

A lower court judge had ruled that Frazier could not sue the tribe in federal court because of the tribe's sovereign status. The appeals court agreed.

Leslie R. Wolff, Frazier's business and personal manager, said he will probably advise his client to drop the case.

"In all reality, he's probably just going to let it die at this stage," Wolff said. "We're all getting older. It was quite a while ago. Joe was not a client of mine at that time."

Mark Emery, a spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation, said: "When individuals choose to fight rather than negotiate meaningful resolutions, they risk having no resolution at all."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press