If something gets stolen, and the victim offers a hefty “no questions asked” reward for its return, is the thief eligible to claim it?
And what if the victim is Lady Gaga herself, and the stolen items are her beloved French bulldogs?
This was the unusual question for the court in a recent case.
In February 2021, while Lady Gaga was in Italy filming House of Gucci, a woman named Jennifer McBride was one of five accomplices who schemed to steal her three beloved French Bulldogs. One of them shot Lady Gaga’s dog walker, a man named Ryan Fischer, four times in the chest (he survived). The others grabbed two of the purebred dogs – named Koji and Gustav – and ran. A third dog, Miss Asia managed to run away.
The two bulldogs ended up in McBride’s possession, and she turned them in to the police. She claimed she’d found the dogs tied to a pole. Yet she also immediately claimed the $500,000 “no questions asked” reward that the devastated Lady Gaga had publicly offered.
It turned out that McBride was dating the father of one of the assailants. Police pieced together the dognapping plot, and charged McBride with receiving stolen property and being an accessory to the crime. She pleaded no contest to the first charge, and was sentenced to probation.
But this didn’t stop McBride from insisting she was still entitled to the $500,000 reward – which Lady Gaga ultimately refused to pay. She then took it one step further: She sued Lady Gaga in civil court in Los Angeles, claiming she’d been “defrauded”. She also claimed for compensatory damages, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.
The court threw McBride’s claim out.
Under what is known as the “unclean hands doctrine”, McBride could not claim the reward in light of her own role in the dognapping scheme the prompted it. As the court put it:
Under Civil Code section 3517, no one can take advantage of his own wrong. (Civ. Code §3517.) The unclean hands doctrine demands that a plaintiff act fairly in the matter for which he seeks a remedy. … A plaintiff must come into court with clean hands, and keep them clean, or be denied relief, regardless of the merits of the claim. The unclean hands doctrine … is an equitable rationale for refusing a plaintiff relief where principles of fairness dictate that the plaintiff should not recover, regardless of the merits of their claim. … A party to a contract who acts wrongfully in entering or performing the contract is not entitled to thereafter benefit from their wrongdoing by seeking to enforce the contract.
Furthermore, under the law a person who receives and keeps stolen property – as McBride initially had – cannot turn around and file a civil suit for damages. Even if she could, her potential damages would be negated, since she would have to pay Lady Gaga back in restitution for the value of the stolen dogs in her possession.
The judge dismissed McBride’s claim. (PS. The shooter ended up pleading no contest to attempted murder of the dog-walker, and was sentenced to 21 years in jail).
Text of the judge’s decision:
More coverage of this incident: