Spencer Elden, 31, who appeared naked on the album cover as a baby, sued the band over alleged “commercial child sexual exploitation.”
However, his lawsuit was dismissed on Friday when a judge ruled that Elden had filed his complaint after the 10-year statute of limitations had expired.
“Accordingly, plaintiff’s action will be dismissed without leave to amend,” said Fernando M. Olguin, United States District Judge for the Central District of California, in a ruling obtained by CNN.
Elden’s lawyer told CNN he plans to appeal the dismissal.
The cover of “Nevermind,” on which the infant Elden appeared, swimming underwater, his eyes fixed on a dollar bill, has become one of the most enduring images in rock music.
In the original complaint, filed August 24, 2021, Elden’s attorneys said the image was pornographic and that he has suffered “lifelong damages” as a result of his involvement.
Elden listed the surviving band members, the executor of lead singer Kurt Cobain’s estate, and various record labels as defendants.
After the complaint was dismissed, a second amended complaint sought damages for what Elden called “lifelong loss of income earning capacity, loss of past and future wages, past and future expenses for medical and psychological treatment, loss of enjoyment of life, and other losses to be described and proven at the trial of this matter.”
The lawsuit alleged that Elden was sexualized because the image of the naked baby grabbing at the dollar bill made the baby resemble “a sex worker.”
Elden has recreated the image at times during his adulthood, but he also suggested in interviews that he felt uncomfortable about the album cover’s popularity.
In 2007, he told the UK’s Sunday Times that he found it “kind of creepy that many people have seen me naked … I feel like the world’s biggest porn star.” The following year he told CNN that he was often asked to attend events as the “Nirvana baby.”
“Nevermind” and its lead single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” sold millions of copies and helped popularize grunge music in the United States. Both its content and artwork were heralded as seminal rock works, but three years after its release, Nirvana’s frontman, Kurt Cobain, died by suicide in Seattle and the remaining members subsequently disbanded.
Elden told CNN in 2008: “Rumor had it that Cobain had the original concept of wanting to show a mother giving birth under water.” Elden added: “But the compromise was to have a baby swimming under water. Or so that’s what I was told.”
The lawsuit alleged Elden “has and will continue to suffer personal injury from the Defendants’ possession, transportation, reproduction, advertisement, promotion, presentation, distribution, providing, and obtaining of child pornography depicting him.”
Cobain’s wife, the singer Courtney Love, was listed in the lawsuit as an executor of Cobain’s estate, alongside others including the photographer Kirk Weddle and record labels Universal Music Group, MCA Records and Geffen Records. CNN has contacted these parties for comment.
CNN’s Rob Picheta contributed to this report.