Judge tosses lawsuit against Marvel, Stan Lee

A model of Spider-Man is displayed at an exhibition ahead of the "Spider-Man 3" world premiere in Tokyo April 16, 2007. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Manhattan federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Marvel Entertainment Inc and comic book creator Stan Lee over the ownership of famous characters including Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four and X-Men.

The $750 million lawsuit filed on behalf of Stan Lee Media Inc alleged that shareholders were harmed when Lee in 1998 transferred rights to the characters to Marvel, which is now owned by Walt Disney Co. Stan Lee Media filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001.

In a March 31 ruling, U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty noted that litigation over the characters had lasted nearly a decade in various state and federal courts in New York, California and Colorado, and included a securities class-action settlement.

“It is now time to call a halt,” Crotty wrote in his 14-page opinion.

The judge concluded that the shareholders, Jose Abadin and Christopher Belland, lacked standing to sue because they did not acquire their Stan Lee Media shares until 1999, more than a year after the alleged illegal conduct.

Crotty also said the shareholders waited too long by not filing their latest lawsuit until January 2009, saying they “cannot wait a decade to enforce their rights.”

A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Monday.

Disney acquired Marvel on December 31 for about $4.2 billion in cash and stock.

The case is Abadin et al v. Marvel Entertainment Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 09-00715.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn