Business & Real Estate

Sacramento woman sues Chipotle for $2.2 billion, saying chain misused photo

Chipotle
Chipotle AP

A Sacramento woman is suing Chipotle Mexican Grill for more than $2.2 billion in damages, alleging that the restaurant chain used a photo of her for marketing purposes without her permission.

Leah Caldwell is asking for all of the company’s profits over a 9-year period.

She filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on Dec. 20, citing a photo that she says was taken in late summer or early fall of 2006 of her sitting inside a Chipotle restaurant near the University of Denver.

As she left the restaurant, the complaint says, she was approached by a man identified as Colorado photographer Steve Adams, who asked her to sign a release for some of the photos he had taken. Caldwell says she refused to sign the release, but Adams had already taken a photo of her without her consent.

In December 2014, Caldwell entered a Chipotle in Orlando, Fla., and recognized herself in a photograph on the wall of the restaurant, according to the complaint. A few months later, she saw the photo in Chipotle franchises in Sacramento and Roseville. The photo initially was published in Chipotle advertisements in 2006, the complaint says.

Caldwell alleges that the photos had been edited, adding textures to hair, groups of people in the background and bottles in the foreground that were not present in the original setting. The addition of the bottles presents her in a false light by associating her with the consumption of alcoholic beverages, the complaint alleges.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., photographer Steve Adams and Chipotle Chief Executive Officer Steve Ells. The case was transferred to the U.S. District Court in Denver on Dec. 27.

The complaint suggests that Chipotle and Ells purchased the photo without verifying whether Caldwell had signed a release for use of her image. Caldwell seeks damages for commercial appropriation of the photograph and for invasion of privacy.

The $2,237,633,000 sought in damages is the sum of Chipotle’s net income for 2006 through 2015 based on the company’s annual reports, according to the complaint.

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