After all these years, retailers are still fighting over Martha Stewart. The queen of all things domestic is now at the center of a legal battle between Macy's (M) and JC Penney (JCP), which officially got underway this week in a New York State Supreme Court. At stake are the rights to sell Martha Stewart merchandise.
Like most corporate love triangles, this one has a history that's equal parts business and personal. Macy's, led by CEO Terry Lundgren, claims to have exclusive rights for certain Martha Stewart-brand products. JC Penney, led by CEO Ron Johnson, begs to differ, having struck a deal to open Martha Stewart "mini-stores" within most JCP stores in December of 2011. As part of the same deal, JCP purchased a 16.6% stake in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSO), the company Stewart founded in 1997.
The deal with Martha Stewart was the first high-profile move by Ron Johnson after he arrived at JCP, following his wildly successful run as head of retail operations at Apple (AAPL). In emails presented as evidence, Johnson says the deal "put Terry in a corner" and forced Macy's into making bad decisions.