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US lawsuit raises new questions about Redstone's ability to run media companies

A U.S. lawsuit raises new questions about the competence of Sumner Redstone and his ability as executive chairman of Viacom and CBS to run the two media companies.

In a probate lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Manuela Herzer, one of the billionaire media mogul's former girlfriends, described him as mentally vacant, "listless" and prone to uncontrollable crying spells.

The lawsuit asks for the 92-year-old Redstone to be submitted to a brain scan and demands that he receive a mental examination to determine whether he could still make decisions for himself.

Sumner Redstone
Michael Tran | FilmMagic | Getty Images
Sumner Redstone

Redstone's attorney Gabrielle Vidal told Reuters the lawsuit was baseless.

"It is a meritless action, riddled with lies, and a despicable invasion of his privacy. It proves only that Ms. Herzer will stop at nothing to pursue her personal financial agenda," Vidal said. "Herzer's claim that she filed this lawsuit out of concern for Mr. Redstone is preposterous."

Redstone's physical and mental health have been the subject of intense debate and speculation, in part because the mogul has been largely absent from his companies' earnings calls lately, whereas he previously kicked off the calls with lavish praise for his executives.

Redstone controls about 80 percent of the voting shares in CBS and Viacom through a holding company, National Amusements.

Herzer had been chosen by Redstone to make healthcare decisions for him in case he was not able to, the lawsuit says, until Redstone executed a new agreement on Oct. 16 to remove Herzer as his health care agent.

When his then girlfriend of five years, Sydney Holland, left him in August 2015, it sent Redstone on a "precipitous deterioration" of his mental and physical health, the filing says.

"After Ms. Holland left, Mr. Redstone became a living ghost," the lawsuit alleges.

After his death, Redstone's ownership interest in the companies will be overseen by a group of seven trustees, including his daughter Shari Redstone and Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman.

The filings also claim that Shari and her father are estranged.

The lawsuit also describes Redstone's inability to walk and stand by himself, his need for sleeping medication and how his conversation consists mostly of grunts.