After taking on a developer by way of a $10 million lawsuit for allegedly using her name and likeness to promote its “selfie beauty” app, Kim Kardashian is suing an Alabama-based doctor for using her name and photos of her to promote his various procedures, including his famed “Vampire Facial.” In a complaint filed in a California federal court on Monday, Kardashian alleges that Dr. Charles Runels has engaged in a “scheme to misappropriate [her] hard-earned popularity without her permission [that] is so pervasive [its] features [her name and likeness] prominently” in various places – from his website to “of all places, his LinkedIn profile.”
In the relatively brief, 19-page complaint, counsel for Kardashian claims that in furtherance of efforts to promote the “Vampire Facial” that he invented, Runels has made widespread use of the mega-star’s name, her family’s last name, and photos of her without he authorization, thereby, giving rise to claims of federal trademark and copyright infringement, right of publicity violations, and false association or endorsement in violation of California state law.
Pointing to specific examples, Kardashian claims that in a pamphlet aimed at enlisting other medical professionals to license his legally-protected methods and other intellectual property associated with them, including the “Vampire Facial” name, Runels’ company, the Cellular Medicine Association provides marketing materials. One pamphlet, in particular, boldly states on the front cover that “The Kardashians got it!”, in reference to the Vampire Facial. Beyond that, Kardashian claims that she “was horrified to discover that her name and likeness were plastered all over Runels’ website,” as well.
Kardashian asserts that while she and her sister Kourtney Kardashian did, in fact, get Vampire Facials “seven years ago” while they were filming an episode of their show “Kourtney and Kim Take Miami,” she says that she “certainly never licensed her name in connection with the procedure.”
Still yet, the complaint asserts that neither Runels nor anyone from the Cellular Medicine Association ever “sought [Kardashian’s] permission to use her as a ‘face’ for their products and services,” something that she says “would command a fee well into eight figures (assuming she would even agree to do such a campaign, which she most assuredly would not).” (Editorial note: This claim, which Kardashian’s counsel regularly makes in any right of publicity suit filed on her behalf – in her case against Missguided, for instance, she claims that she “carefully” and very “selectively” controls which brands and products she endorses – is a particularly interesting one when considered in light of Kardashian’s longstanding partnership with Flat Tummy Co., in which she was paid to promote weight loss products, including appetite suppressant lollipops).image via complaint
With such misappropriation in mind, Kardashian claims that she “reached out to Runels and his trademark attorney to demand that he cease using her name and likeness without her consent.” However, instead of agreeing to “take down the pictures of her and references to her,” Kardashian claims that Runels had “the temerity to demand that she pay him” in order to get him to remove the images and references to her, which she says has caused her to suffer damages in an amount “not less than a number well into seven figures.”
“Setting aside the monetary value, however, it is Ms. Kardashian’s choice whether or not to commercially endorse another party’s goods and services,” her counsel asserts. “Runels and [Cellular Medicine Association] took that choice away from her when they decided to prominently use her name and likeness in commercial advertising without her permission.”
As such, “Ms. Kardashian seeks to hold the defendants accountable for its blatant disregard of her well-established rights,” including her copyright rights in the images that she took and that were used by Runels, her trademark rights in her legally-protected name, and her right of publicity, which enables her to prevent others from commercially exploiting her name and/or likeness without her permission.
Kardashian is seeking a temporary restraining order, as well as preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, all barring Runels and co. from using any photographs of her, her name, and any other elements of her likeness. She has also asked the court to award her damages of a sum to be determined at trial, and to disgorge from the defendants any profits they have made in connection with their use of her name and/or likeness.
In a statement on Tuesday, Runels and Cellular Medicine Association asserted that in reality, it was Kardashian who is in the wrong, as she “used the Vampire Facial® and the Vampire Facelift® name to promote her TV show and to promote her online presence,” including by way of a selfie that made use of “the names owned by Dr. Runels.”
Runels further states that he “did not ask her to use the names to promote her show and her online presence, she used them of her own volition after having the procedure done by a physician-member of Dr. Runels’ provider group of licensees.”
*The case is KIMSAPRINCESS INC., and Kimberly Kardashian West v. Charles Runels, et al., 2:19-cv-10415 (C.D.Cal.).