A federal judge is refusing to dismiss a lawsuit filed by 50 Cent that accused a Miami medical spa of falsely suggesting that he’d had penis surgery, ruling the rapper might have a valid case.
The rapper’s lawsuit claims that Angela Kogan and her Perfection Plastic Surgery & MedSpa exploited an innocent photo he’d “graciously agreed” to take with her to imply that he was a client — and, more startlingly, that he had received penile enhancement surgery as part of his work.
Kogan strongly denies the allegations and immediately moved to dismiss the case, saying 50 actually was a client and had consented to the use of the image as payment for the work he received. But in a decision Monday, Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr. denied that motion, saying the lawsuit’s allegations were strong enough to survive the earliest stages of the case.
Among other things, Kogan defended herself by arguing that her Instagram post featuring the image merely thanked 50 for visiting her medical office and didn’t directly suggest that he’d endorsed the practice. But in his ruling on Monday, Judge Scola said that argument was “simply wrong.”
“As the proverbial saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words,” Scola wrote. “This one in particular depicts a worldwide celebrity next to Kogan with MedSpa’s name repeated all throughout the background. The promotional value is evident.”
Based on the claims in the lawsuit, the judge said the photo did more than just “thank” the rapper, whose birth name is Curtis James Jackson III: “Read in the light most favorable to Jackson, the defendants’ ‘thanks’ serves as a humblebrag. It is self-promotion.” The judge then offered up the dictionary definition of a “humblebrag” in a footnote.
Such a ruling does not mean 50 Cent has won the lawsuit. It merely means the case will head into discovery — the process during which both sides exchange key evidence — and toward an eventual trial where 50 will try to prove such allegations. But it bodes well for any litigant for a judge to rule that, if proven true, your allegations are valid.
An attorney for Kogan declined to comment on the decision.
50 Cent sued Kogan in September, arguing that he took a photo with “someone he thought was a fan” and had “never consented” to the use of the image for commercial purposes in any form. He says Kogan not only posted the image to Instagram herself but also engineered an article on the website The Shade Room that used the post to make the “false insinuation” that she’d provided him with penile enhancement.
The article in question (“Penis Enhancements Are More Popular Than Ever & BBLs Are Dying Out: Cosmetic Surgery CEO Angela Kogan Speaks On It”) did not directly claim that Jackson had the surgery. But it allegedly said he was a “client” of the practice while repeatedly using the image of him with Kogan — and Jackson’s lawyers say the “implication was clear.”
“Defendants’ actions have exposed Jackson to ridicule, caused substantial damage to his professional and personal reputation, and violated his right to control his name and image,” the star’s lawyers wrote at the time. They included social media comments in which users mocked the rapper, including one that “crudely” said the rapper should be called “50 inch.”
Firing back with her motion to dismiss the case in October, Kogan’s attorneys argued the image was “an innocuous capture of plaintiff and defendant in defendants’ office,” not the kind of direct endorsement that would give rise to a lawsuit. And her lawyers argued that she had no direct role in the Shade Room using the Instagram post alongside the article about penile enhancements.
But in his ruling on Monday, Judge Scola said Kogan’s lawyers had glossed over the fact that she had not merely posted the image to Instagram, but also posted a screen-captured video of her scrolling through the Shade Room’s article.
“They weakly argue that Jackson consented to the photo’s being uploaded on to Instagram while making no mention of Jackson’s consent/non-consent as to the screen capture video and the promotional value it doubtlessly served,” the judge wrote.
“That omission is fatal,” Scola continued. “Because the defendants took it upon themselves to post the video onto their Instagram accounts, Jackson can plausibly argue that the defendants unauthorizedly used his likeness to promote their business regardless of whether the defendants had any role in TSR’s publication of either the Tweet or the article.”
Even if 50 Cent had traded his photo consent for free medical care, the judge also questioned whether such treatment could possibly be fair payment for the commercial scale at which Kogan allegedly used the image.
“The promotional value that the defendants have received from repeatedly sharing Kogan’s photo with Jackson is surely great,” Scola wrote. “Although the court has no reason to doubt the quality of the ‘free medspa services’ that the defendants provided Jackson, the record is not sufficiently established to substantiate the defendants’ suggestion that their services equitably compensated Jackson.”