by Richard W. Millar, Jr.
I don’t know a great deal about professional basketball. Occasionally, I will watch the playoffs or the championship series, but that’s about it. I know there are a lot of very tall players with names you can’t verify on Spell Check who make a great deal of money, but I would be hard pressed to name more than a handful. I also expect that, like a lot of professional athletes, basketball players have had their fair share of paternity suits.
The goal of most paternity suits is to gain support for an ignored child with, if you are cynical, some spillover money for the mother-plaintiff. The wealthier the father, the greater the child’s needs and the larger the media splash. The common thread is that the suit is against the father.
The case I report on this month, runs against the common grain. It is a suit by the father against the son and the son’s mother. It does, however, involve basketball.
Leicester Bryce Stovell is a lawyer who for a number of years was with the Securities and Exchange Commission. According to Mr. Stovell, in mid-March 1984, he was at a restaurant/bar called “DC Space” in Washington D.C. when he met a young—perhaps very young-lady named Gloria James with whom he, shall we say, shared a nightcap. The next morning he dropped her off at a subway station so she could return to Akron where she had a job.
A few months later, in June 1984, he again saw Gloria James at DC Space and again they ended up at his apartment. There, his story goes, she told him she was pregnant with a baby boy. While she did not appear to Mr. Stovell to be pregnant, she asked him for something with his name on it and he gave her a business card with the name Leicester B. Stovell. She then asked him what his middle name was and he told her it was Bryce. Ms. James then told him that she was going to name the boy LeBron which was the name of one of her cousin’s friends. (I suspect by now you are seeing where this is going.)
When she was getting ready to leave, Mr. Stovell reputedly said, “well if he is mine, be sure he plays basketball.” She, again according to Mr. Stovell, said, “I will.”
A week later, Mr. Stovell was back at DC Space and the bartender told him that Gloria James was only 15 years old. While Mr. Stovell asserts that he did not believe the bartender, he “ultimately . . . decided to forget the entire matter.” I think if I heard she was 15 I would “decide to forget the entire matter,” also, but I digress.
LeBron was born December 30, 1984. The line on his birth certificate for his father’s name was blank.
Flash forward to 2006. By this time LeBron was a well known basketball star. When a friend asked Mr. Stovell if perchance he had a son he knew nothing about, he began to recall his encounters with Gloria James a couple of decades earlier and based on his and LeBron’s “similarities . . . in height and general appearance” he began researching LeBron’s early years. In so doing, he found statements attributed to Gloria James that the father was one Anthony McClelland. In June of 2007, he contacted LeBron’s attorney to confirm that Mr. McClelland was in fact LeBron’s father. It turned out that DNA tests had eliminated Mr. McClelland.
A few months later Mr. Stovell learned that LeBron had a son named Bryce which pretty well nailed it in Mr. Stovell’s mind, and he again contacted LeBron’s attorney which instigated conversations, meetings and, ultimately, a DNA test. Unfortunately, that test also eliminated Mr. Stovell. Unbowed and convinced that there had been some kind of DNA switcheroo, Mr. Stovell consulted attorneys who advised him the statute of limitations on paternity had run out. Finally, in pro per, he brought suit in federal court in D.C. for fraud, misrepresentation, defamation, breach of contract, and tortious interference with contractual relations against Gloria James as well as LeBron James. The defamation claims were based on Gloria James alleged disparaging remarks about LeBron’s (unidentified) father as well as LeBron’s alleged statements about his (unidentified) father. I think it is pretty hard to be defamed when you are not mentioned and no one else in the world would have thought that you were LeBron’s father, which troubled the court as well.
Part of Mr. Stovell’s assertions was that he was deprived of having a son and the “natural affections that LeBron James would have had for him [had] been alienated.” Also, and I think we are getting to the nub of things here, he “was deprived of commercial opportunities that he could take advantage of as the father of a basketball superstar.”
It should come as no surprise that the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, or, in this case, several claims arguing that “delusions do not give rise to a cause of action.” (I would disagree; I have seen a number of delusions masquerading as causes of action, but again I digress.) It should also not come as a surprise that the district court did not buy what Mr. Stovell was trying to sell and dismissed the action in its entirety which, in a way, was a shame because there was a high potential for entertainment value and even more column material.
Since the decision came down only a few days before this is being penned, I don’t know if Mr. Stovell will appeal. There is one thing, however, that approaches a certainty: he is not likely to get any Father’s Day cards from LeBron anytime soon.
Mr. Millar is a member of the firm of Millar, Hodges & Bemis in Newport Beach. He can be reached at email@example.com.