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Smith v. Goodell

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 5, 2015

JOHNESE LAMAR SMITH,
v.
ROGER GOODELL, et al., Section:

ORDER

NANNETTE JOLIVETTE BROWN, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants Roger Goodell's (the "Commissioner")[1] and the National Football League's ("NFL") (collectively, "Defendants") "Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May Be Granted."[2] Having considered the motion, the memoranda in support and in opposition, the record, and the applicable law, the Court will grant the motion.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Johnese Lamar Smith ("Smith"), proceeding pro se, seeks $11 million in damages for the alleged infringement of her registered copyright for a non-dramatic literary work entitled Fantasy Football Parade Extravaganza (the "FFPE"), a 20-page booklet detailing purportedly "unique strategies and... formula [sic]" for marketing the New Orleans Saints football team (the "Saints").[3] The FFPE includes ideas related to an infomercial, parade, half-time show, new dance routines for the Saintsations dance team, and new football uniforms, and quotes several studies regarding football team ticket sales.[4] Smith alleges that she obtained copyright registration of the FFPE on January 1, 2006.[5]

In the Complaint, Smith alleges that:

On April 5, 2005, the Complainant forwarded, through certified registered mail, several proposals to top executives and owners in the Saints' organization, a sports franchise in The [sic] National Football League, a non-dramatic literary work entitled, FANTASY FOOTBALL PARADE EXTRAVAGANZA, and later, The [sic] FLEUR-DE-LIS CORPORATE SPONSORSHIP, which promoted several pertinent and unique strategies to increase ticket sales, overhaul the teams' approach to entertaining season ticket holders, and their fans (pre-game entertainment during their home games), gain a corporate sponsor for the Louisiana Superdome, and ultimately, lead the team to an NFL Championship (2010). On April 6, 2005, the U.S. Postal Service mail receipts confirmed that all of the top executives and owners in the Saints' organization received the "FFPE" proposals.[6]

Smith additionally alleges that on April 7, 2005, she received "a correspondence from one of the top executives with the Saints' organization, which stated he was advancing FFPE's ideas to the Director of Marketing."[7] On or about May 31, 2005, according to the Complaint, Smith received a letter from the Saints' general counsel stating "[t]he National Football League has a policy for nonsolicited submissions."[8] Smith alleges that the Saints "owners' [sic] were moving forward with the ideas, contexts and the unique strategic characteristics written in FFPE, " and that the Saints' website features ideas that "resembled the context of FFPE strategy and unique characteristics."[9]

B. Procedural Background

Smith filed the Complaint in this matter on May 2, 2014, [10] wherein she alleges that Defendants "engaged in unfair trade practices, [sic] and unfair competition by using FFPE's unique literary body of works as their own, thus causing irreparable damages to its owner."[11] Defendants filed the pending motion to dismiss on June 24, 2014.[12] Smith filed a memorandum in opposition on July 7, 2014, [13] and Defendants filed a reply memorandum on July 10, 2014.[14] Smith filed a surreply on July 22, 2014.[15]

II. Parties' Arguments

A. Defendants' Arguments in Support

Defendants argue that Smith has failed to state a claim for copyright infringement because the Complaint alleges only that Defendants copied "the ideas, contexts and the unique strategic characteristics written in FFPE, '" which are not protected by copyright.[16] Accepting as true Smith's allegation that she has a valid copyright registration for the FFPE, Defendants contend that her copyright registration - and thus, copyright protection - extends only to the specific expression of the facts and ideas contained within the FFPE, but not to the underlying facts or ideas themselves.[17] Specifically, according to Defendants, the ideas of a "FOOTBALL FANTASY PARADE" and a video infomercial, as well as factual information regarding the Saints' statistics, season schedule, tickets, players, and merchandise, cannot be protected by copyright law.[18]

Defendants additionally contend that the Complaint lacks any factual allegations against the NFL or the Commissioner.[19] Specifically, according to Defendants, Smith does not allege that the NFL or the Commissioner copied, distributed, reproduced, or otherwise infringed her FFPE copyright.[20] Moreover, Defendants aver that Smith has not alleged that the NFL or the Commissioner had access to the FFPE or had knowledge of the FFPE.[21] Moreover, according to Defendants, Smith has failed to identify an infringing work created by the NFL or the Commissioner.[22]

Next, Defendants argue that the Copyright Act preempts Smith's state law claims of unfair trade practices and unfair competition.[23] According to Defendants, the Fifth Circuit applies a twostep process to determine whether a state law cause of action is preempted by the Copyright Act.[24] First, the cause of action is examined to determine if it falls within the subject matter of copyright.[25] Here, Defendants contend, accepting Smith's allegations that the FFPE is a non-dramatic literary work, the FFPE clearly falls into one of the categories of a copyrightable work.[26] The second prong, according to Defendants, requires the Court to examine the state law cause of action to determine if it protects rights that are "equivalent" to any of the exclusive rights of federal copyright, as provided in 17 U.S.C. ยง 106.[27] If the Defendants' alleged acts would violate both state law and federal copyright law, then the state right is deemed "equivalent to copyright."[28] Defendants contend that Smith's state law claim under the Louisiana Unfair ...


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