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J & J Sports Productions, Inc. v. Las Palmas, Inc.

United States District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division

April 14, 2015

J & J SPORTS PRODUCTIONS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
LAS PALMAS, INC., et al., Defendants,

OPINION, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

HENRY EDWARD AUTREY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. No. 29]. Defendants oppose the Motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

Facts and Background

Plaintiff, J & J Sports Productions, Inc., was granted the exclusive nationwide commercial distribution rights to the Manny Paquiao v. Juan Manuel Marques, WBO Welterweight Championship Fight Program telecast (the “Program”), which took place on November 12, 2011. Pursuant to the contract granting Plaintiff its distribution rights, Plaintiff entered into sub-licensing agreements with various commercial establishments to permit the public exhibition of the Program. Plaintiff alleges that, without its authorization, Defendants unlawfully intercepted and exhibited the Program at their commercial establishment, Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant, in Woodson Terrace, Missouri. A private investigator swore by affidavit that the Program was exhibited on three televisions to between twenty-five and thirty patrons.

Summary Judgment Standard

The standards for summary judgment are well settled. In determining whether summary judgment should issue, the Court must view the facts and inferences from the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Woods v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 409 F.3d 984, 990 (8th Cir. 2005). The moving party has the burden to establish both the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Enterprise Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations in his pleadings but by affidavit or other evidence must set forth specific facts showing that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256; Krenik v. Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995). “‘Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.’” Hitt v. Harsco Corp., 356 F.3d 920, 923 (8th Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). A dispute of fact is genuine when “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party” on the question. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Woods, 409 F.3d at 990. To survive a motion for summary judgment, the “nonmoving party must ‘substantiate his allegations with sufficient probative evidence [that] would permit a finding in [his] favor based on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy.’” Putman v. Unity Health Sys., 348 F.3d 732, 733-34 (8th Cir. 2003) (quoting Wilson v. Int’l Bus. Machs. Corp., 62 F.3d 237, 241 (8th Cir. 1995)). “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The Court will review the facts in this case with the stated standards in mind.

Discussion

Plaintiff contends that Defendant Las Palmas violated Sections 553 and 605 of Title 47 of the United States Code, and committed the tort of conversion, by broadcasting the Program at Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant on November 12, 2011. Plaintiff further argues that Defendant Edwin Suarez, whom Plaintiff asserts is the managing owner of Las Palmas, [1] is liable for the same violations in his individual capacity. Plaintiff requests that the Court grant summary judgment in its favor as to these claims. Further, Plaintiff requests statutory damages in the amount of $10, 000; enhanced statutory damages in the amount of $100, 000; conversion damages of $2, 200; and costs and attorneys’ fees.

Defendants counter that they are not liable under Section 553 because that Section only prohibits the interception of communications traveling over cable wire. Defendants do not appear to contest that Las Palmas is liable under Section 605, but they assert that their liability should be mitigated through “limited damages, ” because any violation was committed without reason to believe that the law was being violated. Defendants further argue that there was no conversion because, at most, there was an unintentional broadcast of the Program. Finally, Defendants contend that Plaintiff has failed to establish a relationship between Suarez and Las Palmas sufficient to hold Suarez liable in his individual capacity.

A. 47 U.S.C. § 605 Liability and Damages

1. Liability

Under 47 U.S.C. § 605, “[n]o person not being authorized by the sender shall intercept any radio communication and divulge or publish the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of such intercepted communication to any person.”[2] As noted, Defendants appear to concede that Las Palmas violated Section 605 by broadcasting the Program on November 12, 2011. Defendants admit that the Program was observed being exhibited in Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant on November 12, 2011, and that they did not pay the commercial licensing fee. Title 47 U.S.C. § 605 is a strict liability statute, thus rendering frivolous any liability defense Defendants may have raised, given that Defendants admit that the Program was observed being displayed at Las Palmas on November 12, 2011, and that Defendants did not pay the commercial licensing fee. See, e.g., J & J Sports Productions, Inc. v. Bath, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160387, 2013 WL 5954892, *5 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 7, 2013).

Accordingly, the Court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to Plaintiff’s Section 605 claim against Defendant Las Palmas and that Plaintiff is therefore entitled to ...


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