Back in January, as you may recall, we told you about Allen Henson, the fine art photographer who was slapped with a million-dollar lawsuit after he took photographs of a model, Shelby Carter, topless atop the Empire State Building’s observatory deck. Not to be outdone, Henson roundly mocked the lawsuit in the press and then countersued the company behind the iconic building for $5 million.
Representatives for the Empire State Building have never publicly commented on the lawsuit. As it turns out, though, lawyers for very tall buildings have feelings, too, and those feelings are, at the moment, deeply bruised. In new court filings, the building’s representatives accuse Henson of “relishing” the publicity around the lawsuit, and planning an in-court demonstration consisting of dozens of topless women.
There are two separate companies who run the Empire State Building: ESRT Empire State Building, LLC, and ESRT Observatory TRS, LLC. They’re represented by the same trio of lawyers, led by David S. Tannenbaum of the firm Stern Tannenbaum and Bell. On April 7, Tannenbaum filed a motion to dismiss Henson’s countersuit, arguing that it’s a publicity stunt without any legal basis and full of “demonstrably false” statements. The judge hasn’t yet ruled on that request. At the same time, the ESRT lawyers are also asking that Henson be punished by the court for the offense of not taking this whole thing very seriously at all.
“Respectfully, Defendant’s assertion of a wholly meritless claim, as well as his repeated and intentional ‘appeals to the media,’ in which he both attempted to harass and embarrass Plaintiffs and mocked this proceeding, warrant an award of sanctions against Defendant in favor of the Plaintiffs,” Tannenbaum writes.
Also included in the new filings is an affidavit by Melanie Maasch, the director of brand development and public relations for the Empire State Building. She writes that Henson never asked for permission to do the photo shoot, which the company maintains is a “commercial” venture, though Henson says he hasn’t made any money from it. She also rounded up dozens of articles written about the lawsuit, including the ones published by us, the Daily News, the Post, Reuters, and Gothamist.
Maasch and the Empire State lawyers want to make sure the judge is specifically aware of Henson’s promise to come to court backed by an army of topless ladies. On January 14, he put the following appeal on Facebook: “I need a large platoon; about 50 topless girls to accompany me to the NY Supreme Court.” As he explained to Gothamist, “We’re gonna round up an army of half-naked women and march into the courtroom and cause a huge scene,” adding to Metro New York that he’d already had several emails from volunteers.
“Indisputably,” Tannenbaum writes, “it is Henson who is not only inviting publicity regarding this action, but relishing it.”
That much, we think, everybody can agree on.
The full motion to dismiss is below.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 15, 2014