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Oppenheimer v. Griffin

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

December 31, 2019

DAVID OPPENHEIMER, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES SEAN GRIFFIN and JENNIFER FOWLKES GRIFFIN, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

          MARTIN REIDINGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment [Doc. 16].

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 24, 2018, the Plaintiff David Oppenheimer (the “Plaintiff”) filed a complaint against the Defendants James Sean Griffin and Jennifer Fowlkes Griffin (collectively the “Defendants”), asserting claims for copyright infringement and violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). [Doc. 1]. On January 9, 2019, the Court filed an Order to Show Cause sua sponte instructing the Plaintiff to show good cause for the failure to effectuate service on the Defendants. [Doc. 5]. On January 23, 2019, the Plaintiff filed a Response to the Court's Show Cause Order explaining his good-faith yet unsuccessful attempts to serve the Defendants. [Doc. 7 at 2].

         On February 4, 2019, the Court entered an Order granting 60 additional days for the Plaintiff to effectuate service on the Defendants. [Doc. 8]. On April 15, 2019, the Plaintiff filed a Motion for Service by Alternative Means and Request for Additional Time to Serve because of his continued inability to serve the Defendants. [Doc. 9]. On May 22, 2019, the Court entered another Order granting 60 additional days for the Plaintiff to effectuate service on the Defendants but denying the request for alternative service. [Doc. 10]. On July 2, 2019, the Plaintiff filed affidavits of service, indicating that the Defendants were served on June 13, 2019. [Docs. 11, 12]. On September 3, 2019, the Court entered an Order requiring the Plaintiff to either file an appropriate motion or otherwise take further action with respect to the Defendants or have his claims dismissed. [Doc. 13].

         On September 3, 2019, the Plaintiff filed a Motion for Entry of Default against the Defendants for failure to answer or otherwise plead in response to the complaint. [Doc. 14]. On September 5, 2019, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a), the Clerk entered default against the Defendants. [Doc. 15]. The Plaintiff now moves pursuant to Rule 55(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for default judgment against the Defendants, seeking the following relief: (1) a finding that the Defendants are liable for copyright infringement; (2) an award of statutory damages for copyright infringement; (3) an award of statutory damages for violations of the DMCA; (4) an award of costs and attorney fees; and (5) entry of a permanent injunction against the Defendants. [Doc. 16]. The Court held a hearing on the Plaintiff's Motion on December 4, 2019.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “To obtain a default judgment, a party must first seek an entry of default under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a).” Hayhurst v. Liberty Int'l Underwriters, No. 5:08-cv-5347, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5347, at *2 (N.D.W.Va. Jan. 29, 2009); see Eagle Fire, Inc. v. Eagle Integrated Controls, Inc., No. 3:06-cv-264, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41054, at * 14, 2006 WL 1720681 (E.D. Va. June 20, 2006) (“The entry of default is a procedural prerequisite to the entry of a default judgment.”). Rule 55(a) states that the clerk must enter default “[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). After the clerk enters default, the party may seek a default judgment under Rule 55(b)(1) or (2), depending on the nature of the relief sought. Rule 55(b) “authorizes the entry of a default judgment when a defendant fails ‘to plead or otherwise defend' in accordance with the Rules.” United States v. Moradi, 673 F.2d 725, 727 (4th Cir. 1982). By such a default, a defendant admits the well-pleaded factual allegations in the plaintiff's complaint. Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001).

         III. PLAINTIFF'S FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         The well-pleaded factual allegations of the Plaintiff's complaint are deemed admitted by virtue of the Defendants' default. Eagle Hosp. Physicians, LLC v. SRG Consulting, Inc., 561 F.3d 1298, 1307 (11th Cir. 2009). The following is a summary of the relevant and admitted facts.

         The Plaintiff is a citizen of North Carolina engaged in the professional photography business. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 1]. The Plaintiff registered the photograph at issue in this matter (the “Work”) with the Register of Copyrights at the U.S. Copyright Office. [Id. at ¶ 8; Ex. B]. The Plaintiff is the sole owner and proprietor of all right, title, and interest in and to the copyrights of the Work. [Id. at ¶ 6]. The Work consists of an aerial photograph of the Beech Mountain Ski Resort. [Doc. 1-2].

         The Plaintiff makes his photographs available online for print and licensing through his website. [Id. at ¶ 7]. The Plaintiff's custom and business practice is to display his copyright management information (“CMI”) on his copyrighted photographs when they are first published to the website. [Id.]. The Work displayed the Plaintiff's CMI and a watermark when it was first published. [Id. at ¶ 10].

         The Defendants are citizens of Florida. [Id. at ¶¶ 4-5]. The Defendants own a vacation rental property in North Carolina. [Id. at ¶ 2]. As part of their advertisements for that property, the Defendants uploaded and published, or directed others to upload and publish, the Work to several websites on or about July 5, 2017. [Id. at ¶11]. That photograph is used to identify the location of the Defendants' property immediately adjacent to the ski slopes at the Beech Mountain Ski Resort. [Doc. 1-6]. The copies of the Work displayed on those websites removed the CMI and watermark from the Work. [Doc. 1 at ¶¶ 19-20].

         On or about August 3, 2017, the Plaintiff discovered the Defendants' infringement on the copyrights related to the Work. [Id. at 11]. The Plaintiff sent cease and desist letters to the Defendants via email on December 12, 2017 and August 18, 2018. [Id. at ¶ 13]. Despite those letters, the Defendants have continued to infringe the Plaintiff's copyrights by displaying the Work on several websites. [Id. at ¶ 13].[1]

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Jurisdiction is Proper.

         District courts have “original jurisdiction of any civil action arising under any Act of Congress relating to patents, plant variety protection, copyrights, and trademarks.” 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Accordingly, the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the above-captioned civil action as it was brought by the Plaintiff against the Defendants for copyright infringement pursuant to the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq., and the DMCA, 17 U.S.C. § 1202. [Doc. 1 at ¶ 1].

         The Court also must have personal jurisdiction over the Defendants as required to render a valid default judgment. For the Court to have personal jurisdiction, the Plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that exercising jurisdiction will (1) comply with the forum state's long-arm statute and (2) comport with the due process requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Carefirst of Maryland, Inc. v. Carefist Pregnancy Centers, Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 396 (4th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). Because North Carolina's long-arm statute has been construed to extend as far as due process allows, Christian Sci. Bd. of Directors of First Church of Christ, Scientist v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001), this two-pronged test is collapsed into the single inquiry of whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant comports with due process. Universal Leather, LLC v. Koro AR, S.A., 773 F.3d 553, 559 (4th Cir. 2014).

         Exercise of jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant comports with due process if the defendant has sufficient “minimum contacts” with the forum, such that to require the defendant to defend its interest in that state “does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945) (internal quotation marks omitted). The sufficiency of the contacts depends on the circumstances of the case. A court can have personal jurisdiction over a defendant for all claims if the defendant's contacts with the forum state are continuous and systematic. This is referred to as “general jurisdiction.” However, more limited contacts can be sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction over a defendant where those contacts relate to the substance of the particular claim being asserted. This is referred to as “specific jurisdiction.” See, e.g., Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414-16 (1984). In determining whether specific jurisdiction exists, the Court considers (1) the extent to which the defendant purposefully availed itself of the privilege of conducting activities in the state; (2) whether the plaintiff's claims arise out of those activities; and (3) whether the exercise of personal jurisdiction would be constitutionally ...


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