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Tolbert v. High Noon Productions, LLC

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

October 21, 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.

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant High Noon Productions, LLC's “Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint” and Plaintiff Melanie Tolbert's motions to strike. Ms. Tolbert's complaint alleges violations of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq.) and Alabama tort law against High Noon and Discovery, Inc. High Noon now moves to dismiss the action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction. (Doc. 37). Ms. Tolbert moves to strike declarations that High Noon attached to its reply in support of its motion to dismiss. (Doc. 44, Doc. 45).

         For the following reasons, the court will GRANT Defendant High Noon's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and DISMISS High Noon from the case. The court will DENY Plaintiff's motions to strike.

         I. Standard of Review

         Defendant High Noon moves to dismiss Ms. Tolbert's complaint 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). In evaluating a defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, the court accepts the plaintiff's allegations as true. Stubbs v. Wyndham Nassau Resort & Crystal Palace Casino, 447 F.3d 1357, 1360 (11th Cir. 2006). Where the defendant challenges jurisdiction by submitting affidavit evidence in support of its position, “the burden traditionally shifts back to the plaintiff to produce evidence supporting jurisdiction.” United Techs. Corp. v. Mazer, 556 F.3d 1260, 1274 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Meier ex rel. Meier v. Sun Int'l Hotels, Ltd., 288 F.3d 1264, 1269 (11th Cir. 2002)). If “the plaintiff's complaint and supporting evidence conflict with the defendant's affidavits, the court must construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Meier, 288 F.3d at 1269.

         II. Factual Background

         In her original complaint, Alabama resident Melanie Tolbert alleged that, in 2014, she conceived of a then-original idea for a mother-daughter home renovation television show and reached out to several television industry contacts about the possibility of creating such a show. Ms. Tolbert then filmed a teaser trailer with her mother to help pitch the idea. Ms. Tolbert disseminated the teaser to several unnamed individuals and alleges that some or all of those parties somehow transmitted her trailer to either High Noon or Discovery, though she did not transmit the information to High Noon or Discovery directly.

         Although Ms. Tolbert's efforts did not ultimately lead to a television show, she noticed in 2017 that Discovery-owned HGTV had its own nationally broadcast mother-daughter home renovation show called Good Bones, produced by High Noon. Ms. Tolbert subsequently acquired a copyright on her initial teaser trailer and brought the instant action against Discovery and High Noon for copyright infringement.

         Defendant High Noon is a limited liability company organized in Colorado, with offices in Colorado and California. High Noon has produced at least nine television episodes within the state of Alabama, but none are connected to the instant action. Despite the fact that High Noon is located in Colorado and California, Ms. Tolbert alleges that High Noon has purposefully availed itself of the privileges of conducting business in Alabama and has purposefully directed efforts “towards residents of Alabama.” Ms. Tolbert alleges that Good Bones was broadcast to Alabama through HGTV, the defendants knew that the show would be broadcast to Alabama and reach Alabama citizens, and she suffered injury in Alabama.

         High Noon and Discovery filed a motion to dismiss Ms. Tolbert's original complaint, arguing, among other things, that the court lacked personal jurisdiction over High Noon. (Doc. 9). Relevant to High Noon's instant motion to dismiss, the court granted High Noon's first motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and dismissed Ms. Tolbert's claims against High Noon without prejudice. (Doc. 21). The court found that Ms. Tolbert had failed to sufficiently allege personal jurisdiction under a theory of general personal jurisdiction because High Noon had not engaged in enough activities in Alabama to be “at home” here. The court also found that Ms. Tolbert's original complaint had not sufficiently alleged specific personal jurisdiction over High Noon because Ms. Tolbert had not alleged that High Noon intentionally directed any tortious behavior toward Alabama.

         Ms. Tolbert subsequently amended her complaint to add allegations relevant to whether the court has personal jurisdiction over High Noon. Ms. Tolbert alleges that the defendants purposefully infringed on her copyrighted television show idea and teaser trailer, and further alleges that the defendants knew when they infringed on her copyright that she was an Alabama resident and that her potential show was filmed and set in Alabama. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 55; Doc. 29-1 at ¶¶ 6.1-6.3, 20.1-30.1). Ms. Tolbert did not add any other allegations of contacts between High Noon and Alabama related to her copyright infringement case.

         Based on the amended allegations, the court reinstated High Noon as a defendant in the case. (Doc. 36 at 3). High Noon then filed the instant motion to dismiss Ms. Tolbert's Second Amended Complaint, asserting that Ms. Tolbert still had not sufficiently alleged personal jurisdiction. (Doc. 37).

         In the filings relating to High Noon's motion to dismiss, the parties spend time discussing whether High Noon actually received the emails regarding Ms. Tolbert's idea for a television show, whether High Noon learned of Ms. Tolbert's idea after Good Bones was already in production, and whether High Noon actually knew of Ms. Tolbert's connections to Alabama. (Doc. 37, Doc. 42, Doc. 43). Attached to its reply in support of its motion to dismiss, High Noon has included declarations from two employees indicating that High Noon did not receive any emails from Ms. Tolbert, and that, even if it had, the emails would have postdated the development of Good Bones. (Doc. 43-1, Doc. 43-2). Ms. Tolbert has moved to strike the declarations as inappropriate at this stage because they relate to issues of fact. (Doc. 44, Doc. 45).

         III. Discussion

         In its motion to dismiss Ms. Tolbert's second amended complaint, High Noon argues that Ms. Tolbert failed to show that High Noon purposefully availed itself of the benefits of conducting business in Alabama. (Doc. 37). High Noon asserts that Ms. Tolbert failed to identify any relevant contacts between ...


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