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Tolbert v. High Noon Productions, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

January 8, 2019

MELANIE TOLBERT, Plaintiff,
v.
HIGH NOON PRODUCTIONS, LLC d/b/a; HIGH NOON ENTERTAINMENT; DISCOVERY, INC. a/k/a DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS, LLC f/k/a SCRIPPS NETWORK INTERACTIVE, INC., a/k/a SCRIPPS NETWORKS, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Melanie Tolbert brings this claim under the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq.) and Alabama tort law against High Noon Productions, LLC and Discovery, Inc. Defendant High Noon moves to dismiss the action under Rule 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Doc. 9). Defendants High Noon and Discovery move to dismiss the copyright claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and move to dismiss the entire action under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) and 19. Defendants alternatively move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e). Finally, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim as preempted by the Copyright Act and to dismiss some of Plaintiff's claims for damages as impermissibly speculative. In the event this court concludes it cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over Defendant High Noon, Plaintiff moves this court to transfer High Noon to an appropriate jurisdiction. (Doc. 19).

         For the following reasons, the court will DENY Plaintiff's motion to transfer Defendant High Noon, GRANT Defendant High Noon's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE High Noon from the case. The court will DENY Defendant Discovery's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and 19. Alternatively, the court will GRANT Defendant's motion for a more definite statement Rule 12(e). The court will GRANT Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim as preempted and will DENY Defendant's motion to dismiss some of Plaintiff's claims for damages as speculative.

         I. Standards of Review

         Rule 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss standard of review

         Defendant High Noon moves to dismiss Ms. Tolbert's claims against it for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). When a defendant moves to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, “the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of jurisdiction over the movant, non-resident defendant.” Morris v. SSE, Inc., 843 F.2d 489, 492 (11th Cir. 1988) (internal citations omitted).

         A court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a non-resident defendant only when a plaintiff shows that the defendant had sufficient contacts with the forum state to satisfy both the requirements of the state's long-arm statute and the due process requirements of the United States Constitution. Williams Electric Co. v. Honeywell, Inc., 854 F.2d 389, 391 (11th Cir. 1988). The Alabama Supreme Court has interpreted Alabama's long-arm statute as extending as far as the limits permitted by constitutional due process. Elliott v. Van Kleef, 830 So.2d 726, 729 (Ala. 2002).

         Under the constitutional requirements of due process, a court may exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant when (1) the defendant has sufficient “minimum contacts” with the forum state and (2) the exercise of jurisdiction would comport with “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Vermeulen v. Renault, U.S.A., Inc., 985 F.2d 1534, 1545 (11th Cir. 1993) (quoting International Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)).

         Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss standard of review

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). A plaintiff must provide the grounds of her entitlement, but Rule 8 generally does not require “detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). It does, however, “demand[] more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels or conclusions” or “naked assertions” without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.

         The Supreme Court explained that “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting and explaining its decision in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To be plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” the complaint must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). If the court determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claim must be dismissed. Id.

         Rule 19 motion to dismiss standard of review

         The Defendants also move to dismiss Ms. Tolbert's claims pursuant to Rule 19(b), asserting that several individuals mentioned but not identified by name in the complaint are indispensable parties she has not joined. More accurately, they bring this motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(7), which provides that a party may present by motion the defense that the complaint should be dismissed “for failure to join a party under Rule 19.” Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(7).

         District courts addressing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(7) and Rule 19 undertake a two-step inquiry. The first step is deciding whether the absent party is a “required party” within the meaning of Rule 19. See Molinos Valle del Cibao v. Lama, 633 F.3d 1330, 1344 (11th Cir. 2011). If the absent party is “required” and can be joined, then “the court must order that the person be made a party.” Fed. R. Civ. P 19(a)(2). In step two, if the absent party is “required” but cannot be joined, then the court must consider whether, “in equity and good conscience, the action should proceed among the existing parties or should be dismissed.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(b).

         To make this decision, the district court considers the factors listed in Rule 19(b):

(1) the extent to which a judgment rendered in the person's absence might prejudice that person or the existing parties;
(2) the extent to which any prejudice could be lessened or avoided by:
(A) protective provisions in the judgment;
(B) shaping the relief; or
(C) other measures;
(3) whether a judgment rendered in the person's absence would be adequate; and
(4) whether the plaintiff would have an adequate remedy if the action were dismissed for non-joinder.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(b) (1)-(4). The court may look not only at the pleadings but also at evidence that the parties present. See Estes v. Shell Oil Co., 234 F.2d 847, 849 n. 5 (5th Cir.1956).

         Rule 12(e) motion for more definite statement ...


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