Lee County denied motion to dismiss artist’s suit over rights to 'Shell Love Bug' sculpture

By Elizabeth Alt | Jun 5, 2018

FORT MYERS – The U.S District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers Division, recently denied a motion by Lee County to dismiss a lawsuit brought by local celebrity artist Pamela Rambo, who claims the county refuses to give her the title to a VW Beetle she turned into a sculpture known as the “Shell Love Bug.”

FORT MYERS – The U.S District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers Division, recently denied a motion by Lee County to dismiss a lawsuit brought by local celebrity artist Pamela Rambo, who claims the county refuses to give her the title to a VW Beetle she turned into a sculpture known as the “Shell Love Bug.” 

Senior U.S. District Judge John E. Steele issued the court order on May 21 that said, “In breach of the verbal agreement, defendant continues to retain title to the vehicle, and continues to market and advertise the sculpture without plaintiff or Ms. Rambo’s permission or consent.” 

Lee County sought to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim, noting that there was an implied license agreement in their favor, and that Rambo “failed to establish that defendant’s actions violated an exclusive right owned by plaintiff.”

Rambo’s complaint, filed under Kirby Rambo Collections Inc., states that after meeting with Lee County officials she created the “Shell Love Bug” for the 2016 National Seashell Day Event. Rambo, who says she has volunteered for Lee County for a long time, claims that she spent over a month creating the “Shell Love Bug,” which utilized a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle purchased by Lee County, and that Rambo used some of her own “priceless and unique shells” on the sculpture. The parties had a verbal agreement that after the event, Lee County would transfer the title and ownership of the VW to Rambo. 

According to the complaint, Lee County asked to use the sculpture after the Seashell Day event was over to “market and promote itself.” Rambo agreed, according to the complaint, which went on to state that Lee County kept promising to transfer the title to her. After a year and a half, Rambo states the county’s attorneys told her that the title would not be transferred to her as it belonged to Lee County. 

Rambo alleges Lee County continued to use the sculpture to promote and market events after she sent a cease and desist letter. The complaint added that the county displayed the sculpture during events and used its image without her permission in marketing materials. Rambo also states that the sculpture was damaged and changed without her consent. 

The suit alleges claims for “copyright infringement, replevin and unjust enrichment against defendant Lee County,” and seeks to recover her sculpture and damages for unjust enrichment. 

Judge Steele stated that “defendant has knowingly and fraudulently attributed ownership of the sculpture to itself by failing to indicate that it is registered in plaintiff’s name.” The order stated that Rambo is covered under copyright protection and has provided multiple pieces of evidence by showing the vehicle registration in her name, the dates Lee County publicly displayed the sculpture infringing on her rights, and the fliers and promotional materials as a “creation of a derivative work” to state a plausible claim for relief. 

Lee County was given 14 days to respond to the order denying the motion to dismiss the suit. 

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Fort Myers Division, Case Number 2:18-cv-00180-JES-CM

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