Hall's lawsuit not first filed against Sugarland

Suit settled through mediation in 2005

Sugarland is at No. 1 on the album chart this week, but a lawsuit by former member Kristen Hall might put a damper on the celebrations for "Love on the Inside."

In a complaint that calls the defendants "stubbornly litigious," Hall alleges that remaining Sugarland members Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush "have failed to account for and pay to Hall an equal share of the profits generated by the partnership as required under the parties' agreement and under Georgia law."

Hall is seeking $1.5 million.

The band's record label publicist referred requests for comment on the suit to Nettles and Bush's Los Angeles attorney Gary Gilbert. Messages left with Gilbert's office had not been returned by late Friday afternoon.

On Friday, Hall's attorney, Atlanta lawyer Scott D. Sanders, said that when Hall left the group in late 2005, the group never settled its partnership affairs.

"If you form a business with somebody and, for whatever reason later on, the parties separate," Sanders said, "they need to have an accounting and what's called winding-down of partnership, and make a distribution of the assets and a valuation of the assets." Attempts to work out an agreement were not successful, he said.

Barry Schrum, a Nashville entertainment attorney who writes a legal blog called www.lawontherow.com, said Hall has a legitimate claim given that her name is registered on the trademarks for the name "Sugarland."

"When you dissolve a partnership interest," he said, "you take all the assets, you value them and you pay the leaving partners whatever it's worth. She's essentially saying, 'Hey! I'm still a partner. As far as the agreement goes, you owe me money.'"

He said the band should have created an LLC and had that company own the trademarks. "That would have made things a lot less muddied on who has the right to use that name," Schrum said. "Technically, [Hall] could use the name Sugarland herself if she wanted to."

Cut out of authorship

This isn't the first legal action involving Sugarland. In 2004, musicians Simone Simonton and Bret Hartley filed suit in DeKalb County Superior court alleging that they contributed to songs that appeared on the band's first major label album, "Twice the Speed of Life," and were cut out of the authorship.

That case was settled and the terms confidential, according to an e-mail from Simonton and Hartley's lawyer Henry Hibbert.

Hartley, taking a break from recording his new album, wouldn't comment on either suit, but did say that he emerged from the studio Friday to several e-mails about Hall's recent filing.

"I cannot tell you the details of my mediation, but I can tell you we mediated my concerns and Simone's concerns back in January of 2005," he says. "I ain't getting in the middle of this."

Several of the songs in question on Simonton and Hartley's complaint first appeared on Sugarland's independently released "Premium Quality Tunes," including breakthrough hit "Baby Girl."

The photo on the back of that first album includes five individuals — Hall, Nettles, Simonton, Bush and Hartley — and lists five more musical contributors. By the time Sugarland made its major label debut, there are three members pictured on the back.

When the second major label album, "Enjoy the Ride," hit stores in November 2006, there were two left.

Naming the band

The suit filed by Hall this week states that since Dec. 20, 2005, "Nettles and Bush have excluded Hall from all aspects of the partnership business including, but not limited to, failing to account for and pay her a share of the partnership profits."

Hall's complaint asserts that she created the name and allowed Nettles and Bush "to obtain equal co-ownership of the trademark and service mark. The United States Patent and Trademark Office registration numbers for both are listed.

In an interview with the AJC just before "Enjoy the Ride" was released in late 2006, Hall said, "I don't want to be a touring musician. I just want to be a songwriter. ... I started the band. I named the band. We fought a war to make a brand name — we did it. It's awesome. I'm totally proud of it and support it. Good for me."

— Rodney Ho contributed to this article.