Lil Peep’s mom scored a legal victory Wednesday when a judge upheld her negligence and wrongful death claims against her son’s record label and the tour manager who was traveling with the emo rapper when he overdosed and died on a bus in Arizona four years ago.
At a court hearing in Los Angeles, Judge Teresa A. Beaudet shot down label First Access Entertainment’s request to dismiss the claims on the grounds that mom Liza Kathryn Womack, the executor of her son’s estate, failed to show any “causal connection” between FAE’s alleged negligence and Peep’s tragic demise from a deadly cocktail of fentanyl and Xanax.
In her lengthy ruling, Judge Beaudet said that while she agreed with FAE that portions of a highly damaging statement from Peep’s fellow musician Cold Hart were inadmissible hearsay, the court’s decision to strike sections of Cold Hart’s declaration Wednesday wasn’t enough to gut the wrongful death lawsuit first filed by Womack in 2019.
In his disputed declaration, Cold Hart, a member of the emo-rap collective Gothboiclique, told the court he was traveling alongside Peep for the rapper’s “Come Over When You’re Sober” tour from Nov. 8, 2017 until the rapper’s death on Nov. 15, 2017. He claimed that “throughout” that duration, Belinda Mercer, the tour’s manager hired by FAE, “provided and supplied Xanax, cocaine, marijuana, Percocet, and ketamine” to “those traveling on the tour bus.”
Judge Beaudet upheld those comments in her ruling Wednesday but struck down a latter section of the statement in which Cold Hart, whose legal name is Jerick Quilisadio, claimed that on Nov. 14, 2017, Peep’s managers told the rapper he should make “himself sick from taking a bunch of Xanax” so he could trigger “an insurance claim and not lose money” on a show he wanted to cancel. The judge agreed with FAE that Quilisadio failed to state that he personally witnessed someone directing Peep to consume the “excessive” amount of Xanax.
But even without Cold Hart’s full statement, Womack’s negligence and wrongful death claims survived Wednesday because she provided other viable bases for the causes of action, including allegations that no one on the bus was trained to recognize the signs of an overdose; that the bus was not equipped with a defibrillator, Narcan, or any other “life-saving apparatuses” used for drug overdose; and that no one on the bus rendered Peep life-saving aid, the judge ruled.
“There’s no question there’s a triable issue as to whether (Mercer) provided the drugs or not,” Judge Beaudet said during the afternoon hearing. “If you’re going to create an environment like that where drugs are flowing, and you’re providing it, and hey, you actually don’t have any life-saving device or any Narcan to help people who are going to have a problem with these drugs, it seems to me you are creating a very dangerous situation there.”
She said that while “there’s actually no evidence” Mercer provided any fentanyl, the rapper “somehow got fentanyl,” and it could take a jury to decide whether Mercer unknowingly supplied a drug “that might be laced with fentanyl.”
“I’m not saying that’s what happened, but that’s what (Womack alleges),” the judge said. “The fact (that defendants) didn’t give the decedent adequate protection for that environment, I think that could add up to causation here.”
Before the hearing ended, FAE’s lawyer John Amberg tried one last time to convince the judge that Womack’s negligence and wrongful death claims were too weak to stand because she presented no smoking gun linking FAE “agents” to the actual drugs that killed Peep.
“They failed to make that case. They failed,” Amberg argued Wednesday.
“No, sir, I don’t agree with that,” Judge Beaudet interrupted. “They have established that drugs were provided to him. They didn’t stop at the 24-hour period.”
Judge Beaudet did hand Womack one loss Wednesday, dismissing her negligence and wrongful death claims against Peep’s co-manager, Bryant “Chase” Ortega. The judge said Womack failed to present adequate evidence that Ortega “directed” any of the alleged negligence on the tour bus leading up to Peep’s overdose.
In her initial blockbuster lawsuit, Womack claimed FAE — along with Mercer and Ortega — “encouraged and facilitated” a “drug-laden environment” on the doomed “Come Over When You’re Sober” tour as they ignored warning signs and alleged cries for help from the artist born Gustav Ahr.
Citing witness accounts and text messages exchanged behind the scenes during the rapper’s final months, Womack alleges FAE boss Sarah Stennett helped Peep obtain Xanax without a prescription, and even gave him a bottle of illicit pills at a group dinner in early 2017. Womack further claims Mercer “engaged in a sexual relationship” with her son during the tour and “supplied” him with both Xanax and the tranquilizer ketamine.
Echoing revelations in a March 2019 Rolling Stone story about Peep’s tortured final days, Womack states in her filings that Mercer was detained by Canadian officials at a border crossing between Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ontario, on Oct. 25, 2017, because “illegal drugs” were found in her possession leading up to a show in Toronto just three weeks before Peep’s death.
In a deposition last year, Mercer conceded that authorities found “three” illegal substances on the bus, both in the common area of the touring vehicle and in one of her bags in her bunk. Mercer said she couldn’t recall what the substances were exactly but stressed she wasn’t “arrested,” only detained, and that the $2,000 she ended up paying to gain release was “a bus fine” that she put on her credit card and never expensed. According to recently unsealed text messages related to the border incident, Mercer texted her co-manager on the tour, Stephen Paul, shortly after her release, saying, “I am sorry and embarrassed about it all. It was a huge mistake and will never happen again.”
Mercer further admitted during her deposition that Peep repeatedly asked her to procure drugs. She then invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked multiple questions about whether or not she provided Peep with drugs prior to Nov. 5, 2017. For instance, when confronted with October 2017 text messages in which she allegedly asked the rapper “How many blue?” and Peep wrote to her, “Perc, please,” allegedly referring to Percocet, Mercer pleaded the Fifth.
Womack’s wrongful death and negligence claims represent only a portion of her ongoing legal battle with her son’s label. The other half involves business claims arising after Peep’s death, starting with the counter-lawsuit FAE filed against Womack in October 2020.
In its cross-complaint, FAE claims Womack breached the terms of her son’s 2016 contract by selling Peep-branded merchandise online, at pop-up stores and through third-party deals without FAE’s authorization. According to FAE, Peep was “living in Skid Row” in Los Angeles, self-releasing his own music on SoundCloud when the U.K. company agreed to help finance and develop his career.
Womack, meanwhile, filed her own cross-complaint last March alleging breach of fiduciary duty on the part of FAE and Stennett. She now claims FAE owes her nearly $4 million in overdue royalties.
Peep’s mom has since tried, but failed, to sever her post-mortem business claims against FAE and Stennett into a separate case with a speedier trial date. Womack claims her working relationship with her son’s label is so “dysfunctional” and “fraught with conflict,” she needs immediate court intervention to resolve disagreements over who’s entitled to sell Lil Peep merchandise, who owns her son’s name and likeness, and what sums are owed.
The court declined last November to sever the claims and grant two trials, saying it wouldn’t be a “beneficial” use of court resources “at this time.” A trial date in the complicated case has been set for March 2023.
From Rolling Stone US