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Dent v. Renaissance Marketing Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 28, 2014

RICHARD DENT, STEVE FULLER WILLE GAULT, JIM MCMAHON, MIKE RICHARDSON, and OTIS WILSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
RENAISSANCE MARKETING CORPORATION and JULIA MEYER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

Six members of the 1985 Chicago Bears football team, Richard Dent, Steve Fuller, Willie Gault, Jim McMahon, Mike Richardson, and Otis Wilson (collectively Plaintiffs or the Shufflin' Crew), filed this suit against Renaissance Marketing Corporation and Julia Meyer. R. 1-1, Compl. ¶ 1.[1] On its face, the complaint alleges several state-law claims, and the case was initially filed in state court. Id. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants used Plaintiffs' performance in the "Super Bowl Shuffle" without authorization, and these ex-Bears players now bring claims for a constructive trust, declaratory judgment and related injunctive relief, conversion, unjust enrichment, and an accounting. Id. ¶¶ 35-66. Defendant Julia Meyer removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., preempts Plaintiffs' state-law claims. R. 1, Defs.' Notice of Removal ¶¶ 17, 51. Plaintiffs now move to remand. R. 15, Pls.' Mot. Remand. For the reasons detailed below, the Plaintiffs' motion is denied because three of the claims actually assert rights under the federal Copyright Act, not merely state law. The case must remain in federal court.

I. Background

The Shufflin' Crew are six former members of the Super-Bowl-champion Chicago Bears. Compl. ¶¶ 4-9.[2] In 1985, Richard E. Meyer, who was at that time the president of Red Label Records, Inc., approached Plaintiffs and other members of the 1985 Chicago Bears hoping to capitalize on the Bears' successful season. Id. ¶ 12. The parties agreed to develop and record the Super Bowl Shuffle, a song and music video trumpeting the success of the 1985 Chicago Bears, and entered into a Royalty Agreement in November 1985 to define each party's rights in the work. Id. ¶¶ 12-14. The Agreement also set an expiration date: March 31, 1989. Id. ¶ 32. On September 15, 1986, Red Label Records purportedly assigned its interest in the Super Bowl Shuffle to its President, Richard Meyer. Id. ¶ 18. Julia Meyer, Richard Meyer's widow, claims she now has survivorship rights in the Super Bowl Shuffle based on that assignment. Id. ¶ 11. Defendant Renaissance Marketing Corporation is Julia Meyer's exclusive licensing agent for the Super Bowl Shuffle. Id. ¶ 10.

The Shufflin' Crew argues that Red Label Records's initial assignment to Richard Meyer was inoperative. Id. ¶ 19. Under § 16 of the Royalty Agreement, Red Label Records could not assign its interest without the Shufflin' Crew's consent. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. Red Label Records allegedly never sought nor received the Shufflin' Crew's permission, and the Shufflin' Crew maintains that they had no reason to believe that any assignment took place. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. Because they believe that the initial assignment to Richard Meyer was not valid, the Shufflin' Crew argues that Julia Meyer and Renaissance could never have acquired an interest in the performance. Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiffs claim, therefore, that Defendants improperly benefitted from marketing, distributing, and licensing the Super Bowl Shuffle without authorization. Id. ¶¶ 24, 33-34. They filed this suit in state court, bringing claims for a constructive trust, declaratory judgment and related injunctive relief, conversion, unjust enrichment, and an accounting. Id. ¶¶ 35-66. Defendants removed Plaintiffs' suit to federal court, claiming that the state-law claims were preempted by the Copyright Act. See Defs.' Notice of Removal. The Shufflin' Crew now moves to remand, arguing that that the removal was untimely and that the claims were not preempted by the Copyright Act. See Pls.' Mot. Remand.

II. Legal Standard

Removal is governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1441, which provides, in pertinent part, that "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district... embracing the place where such action is pending." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). "Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court." Caterpillar v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). "The party seeking removal has the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, and federal courts should interpret the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubt in favor of the plaintiff's choice of forum in state court." Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., 577 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Doe v. Allied-Signal, Inc., 985 F.2d 908, 911 (7th Cir. 1993)); see also Northeastern Rural Elec. Membership Corp. v. Wabash Valley Power Ass'n, Inc., 707 F.3d 883, 893 (7th Cir. 2013).

In general, federal district courts have "original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The usual test for federal-question jurisdiction under § 1331 is the "well pleaded complaint rule, " which requires federal courts to look only at the complaint itself "to determine if the case arises under federal law." Vorhees v. Naper Aero Club, Inc., 272 F.3d 398, 402 (7th Cir. 2001). In addition, "[c]omplete preemption confers exclusive federal jurisdiction in certain instances where Congress intended the scope of a federal law to be so broad as to entirely replace any state-law claim.'" Nelson v. Welch (In re Repository Techs.), 601 F.3d 710, 722 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Franciscan Skemp Healthcare, Inc. v. Cent. States Joint Bd. Health & Welfare Trust Fund, 538 F.3d 594, 596 (7th Cir. 2008)). "Under this jurisdictional doctrine, certain federal statutes have such extraordinary pre-emptive power' that they convert [ ] an ordinary state common law complaint into one stating a federal claim.'" Id. (citing Franciscan Skemp Healthcare, 538 F.3d at 596; Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 209 (2004)). "Complete preemption, therefore, creates an exception to the rule that courts look only to the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint to determine whether federal jurisdiction exists. If the complaint pleads a state-law claim that is completely preempted by federal law, the claim is removable to federal court." Id. (citing Franciscan Skemp Healthcare, 538 F.3d at 596-97).

The federal Copyright Act preempts "all legal and equitable rights that are equivalent to any of the exclusive rights within the general scope of copyright as specified by section 106" and are "in a tangible medium of expression and come within the subject matter of copyright as specified by sections 102 and 103." 17 U.S.C. § 301(a). "Even though [a] claim is created by state law, a case may arise under' a law of the United States if the complaint discloses a need for determining the meaning or application of... [the federal] law." See T.B. Harms Co. v. Eliscu, 339 F.2d 823, 827 (2d Cir. 1964); Int'l Armor & Limousine Co. v. Moloney Coachbuilders, Inc., 272 F.3d 912, 915-16 (7th Cir. 2001) (adopting the reasoning of T.B. Harms ). But not every claim that involves a copyright will be preempted by the Copyright Act. See T.B. Harms, 339 F.2d at 825-27; Nova Design Build, Inc. v. Grace Hotels, LLC, 652 F.3d 814, 816 (7th Cir. 2011). Preemption applies when "establishing the plaintiff's right [under the state-law cause of action] will require interpreting federal law." Saturday Evening Post Co. v. Rumbleseat Press, Inc., 816 F.2d 1191, 1194 (7th Cir. 1987).

Two conditions must be satisfied for copyright preemption of a state-law cause of action under § 301. "First, the work in which the right is asserted must be fixed in tangible form and come within the subject matter of copyright as specified in § 102. Second, the right asserted must be equivalent to any of the rights specified in § 106." Baltimore Orioles, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Players Ass'n, 805 F.2d 663, 674 (7th Cir. 1986). Section 106 of the Copyright Act specifies five exclusive and fundamental rights in a copyrighted work: reproduction, adaptation, publication, performance, and display. 17 U.S.C. § 106; Toney v. L'Oreal USA, Inc., 406 F.3d 905, 909 (7th Cir. 2005). To avoid preemption, a state-law claim must claim a right that is "qualitatively distinguishable" from these five rights. Toney, 406 F.3d at 910. In determining if a claim is qualitatively distinguishable, courts will look to the right that the plaintiff seeks to protect and the reasons he believes those rights should be protected. Briarpatch Ltd., L.P. v Phoenix Pictures, Inc., 373 F.3d 296, 306 (2d Cir. 2004). If even one claim is preempted, then removal is proper. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367; Vaughn v. Kelly, No. 06 C 6427, 2007 WL 804694, at *3, (N.D. Ill. Mar. 13, 2007).

III. Analysis

A. Preemption

Plaintiffs do not dispute that the Super Bowl Shuffle is fixed in tangible form and comes within the subject matter of copyright. R. 16, Pls.' Br. at 8-14; see also 17 U.S.C. § 102(a). But they argue that the right to be enforced in each count of the complaint is not equivalent to any of the rights specified in § 106, and that their claims are therefore not preempted by the Copyright Act. Pls.' Br. at 8-14. Although only a single claim must be preempted for removal to be proper (because then there would be federal-question jurisdiction over that claim, and possibly ...


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