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WHITEHEAD v. TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORP.

United States District Court, D. Columbia


August 29, 2005.

DAVID L. WHITEHEAD, Plaintiff,
v.
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORP., INC., Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: GLADYS KESSLER, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, David L. Whitehead, brings this action pro se against Defendant, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., Inc. ("Twentieth Century Fox"), alleging copyright infringement in violation of 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq.. This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is hereby granted.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

  Plaintiff, an author, poet, and playwright, contends that Defendant unlawfully infringed on his copyrighted musical play "God v. Satan" in the creation and production of its motion picture THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (Newmarket Film Group 2004). That film, Plaintiff claims, is a "direct cop[y] of [his] copyrighted materials." See Compl. at 5. To his copyright claim, Plaintiff also appends federal claims under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1501 et seq., and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961 et seq., as well as several state law claims including negligence, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duties. Compl. at 1. In addition to $850,000,000 in damages, Plaintiff seeks impoundment of all products related to THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST Id. at 20.

  Plaintiff initiated this action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("the Superior Court") on June 30, 2005. On July 25, 2005, Defendant properly removed the matter to this Court.

  On August 1, 2005, Defendant Twentieth Century Fox filed its Motion to Dismiss the Complaint.

  II. ANALYSIS

  Twentieth Century Fox claims that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and asks this Court to dismiss the case pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Defendant's Mot. Dismiss at 1. Without addressing the merits of Plaintiff's allegations, Defendant argues that because Plaintiff has been enjoined "from commencing any action in this Court without first obtaining leave to file,"*fn2 and because Plaintiff did not seek such leave before bringing the instant case, this action cannot proceed in this Court. Id. at 3.

  Defendant alleges that Plaintiff filed this case in the Superior Court knowing that jurisdiction was improper there and with the expectation that it would be removed to this Court. Id. at 5. In essence, Defendant characterizes Plaintiff's filing in the Superior Court as mere subterfuge, an attempt to circumvent "the intent and spirit of Judge Roberts' order" barring Plaintiff from maintaining any actions in this Court without first seeking leave to do so. Id. at 6.

  Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). See also Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974) ("The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims."). As noted supra, the factual allegations of the complaint must be liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff. EEOC, 117 F.3d at 625.

  Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that this action should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons discussed infra, Plaintiff had to have known at the time he filed this action in the Superior Court that only a federal court could exercise subject matter jurisdiction over his copyright infringement claim and that Defendant would, of necessity, remove the matter to this Court. See Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Stiffel Co., 376 U.S. 225, 231 (1964) (noting that 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a) vests the federal courts with exclusive jurisdiction over patent and copyright cases). As a result, the Court agrees with Twentieth Century Fox that Plaintiff's actions in this case were calculated to evade the injunction issued against him in 2003 and that that injunction bars further proceedings in this matter.

  Although Plaintiff appears pro se, he is hardly unfamiliar either with the jurisdiction and procedures of both state and federal courts generally or with copyright infringement claims in particular. Over the past decade, Plaintiff has filed no fewer than ninety four civil actions in state and federal courts, including dozens of federal copyright infringement claims. See Whitehead v. Wickham et al., No. 15207-04, Mem. Order at 1 (D.C. Super. Ct. Mar. 31, 2005). Of the twenty six actions Plaintiff has brought in this Court, eleven have involved claims of copyright infringement.*fn3 See Whitehead v. Paramount Pictures Corp. et al., 145 F. Supp. 2d at 4.

  Plaintiff has found elements of his essays, poems, and plays in some of the most popular films of the past decade and has accordingly sued several of the nation's largest film and media entities in this Court. Each of these cases has been dismissed and each dismissal has been affirmed on appeal.*fn4 Either the trial court judge or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has imposed sanctions against Plaintiff or awarded attorneys' fees to defendants' counsel in most of these actions.*fn5 In the instant case, Plaintiff again claims that a major film studio, Twentieth Century Fox, has unlawfully used his own work in a popular film, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

  Plaintiff's extensive experience litigating copyright infringement claims would itself suggest that he was aware, when he filed this case in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, that the federal courts retain exclusive jurisdiction over these matters. Even assuming that Plaintiff has not long known that the Superior Court cannot hear copyright infringement claims, however, he was placed on full notice of that fact earlier this year when he filed Whitehead v. Wickham in that court. See Whitehead v. Wickham et al., No. 15207-04, Mem. Order at 1 (D.C. Super. Ct. Mar. 31, 2005).

  Whitehead v. Wickham involved a claim by Plaintiff against author DeWayne Wickham and publisher Random House Incorporated, in which he alleged that the book Bill Clinton and Black America (Ballantine Books, 2002) infringed on his copyrighted essay "Bill Clinton and the Negroes." Despite a claim for damages in excess of $3,000,000, Plaintiff filed the case in the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch of the Superior Court. The jurisdiction of that Branch is limited to claims under $5,000. See D.C. CODE § 11-1321. The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Ronald Goodbread who, in ordering the case to be certified to the Superior Court's Civil Division, issued a lengthy opinion detailing Plaintiff's extensive litigation experience. See Whitehead v. Wickham et al., No. 15207-04, Mem. Order at 1 (D.C. Super. Ct. Mar. 31, 2005).

  In at least four separate places, Judge Goodbread's opinion explains in no uncertain terms that Plaintiff's copyright claim could not be maintained in the Superior Court, that it would almost certainly be removed to this Court and that, once removed, it would likely be dismissed because of Judge Roberts' 2003 injunction. See id. at 4, 35, 40-42, and 48. Judge Goodbread states, for instance, that Plaintiff "knows full well, having filed every other copyright suit in Article III courts, that he literally has no business here." Id. at 48. More pointedly, he warns Plaintiff that he brought his claim against Mr. Wickham and Random House "in a court in which his action does not properly lie . . . and [that the case] would only inevitably end up being removed to an Article III court, which has already guaranteed him that he will be sanctioned severely for pursuing such misbegotten claims." Id. at 4.

  Judge Goodbread's predictions about the fate of Plaintiff's action in fact came true. One day after Whitehead v. Wickham was certified to the Superior Court, the defendants removed the case to this Court. Two weeks later, Judge James Robertson of this Court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss. See Whitehead v. Wickham et al., No. 05-632, Order Granting Def.'s Mot. Dismiss (D.D.C. Apr. 14, 2005).

  There is absolutely no question that Plaintiff has been on notice since at least April 14, 2005 — and undoubtedly long before*fn6 — that only federal courts can exercise subject matter jurisdiction over copyright matters. Given that reality, his filing this case in the Superior Court in June 2005 could be nothing but an attempt to circumvent Judge Roberts' 2003 injunction against him. C.f. Jemzura v. Mikoll, No. 99-CV-710, 2001 WL 1217227 (N.D.N.Y. 2001). Because that injunction remains valid, and because Plaintiff did not seek leave to file this case in accordance with it, his action against Defendant cannot proceed in this Court.

  III. CONCLUSION

  Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is granted.

  An Order will issue with this Memorandum Opinion.

20050829

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