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Nola Fine Art, Inc. v. Ducks Unlimited, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 12, 2015

NOLA FINE ART, INC. AND MICHAEL HUNT
v.
DUCKS UNLIMITED, INC., SECTION: R(4)

ORDER AND REASONS

SARAH S. VANCE, District Judge.

Before the Court is defendant, Ducks Unlimited, Inc.'s motions for summary judgment on plaintiffs' contract, [1] detrimental reliance, [2] unfair trade practices, [3] and fraud[4] claims. Also before the Court is Ducks Unlimited's motion to strike two of plaintiffs' summary judgment exhibits.[5] For the following reasons, the Court grants Ducks Unlimited's motions for summary judgment on plaintiffs' detrimental reliance, unfair trade practices, and fraud claims. The Court denies Ducks Unlimited's motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs' breach of contract claim. The Court also denies Ducks Unlimited's motion to strike plaintiffs' summary judgment exhibits.

I. BACKGROUND

This suit arises from a failed charitable project intended to raise money for the restoration of Cat Island, a small island off the coast of Southeast Louisiana. Plaquemines Parish Coastal Director P.J. Hahn spearheaded the project and met with plaintiff Michael Hunt in late May or early June of 2012 to discuss Hunt's interest in participating in the project.[6] Hunt, the artist-owner of NOLA Fine Art, Inc., agreed to participate in the project. Specifically, Hunt agreed to paint, sell, and ship a "Cat Island Poster" and donate 20% of the proceeds to the restoration project.[7] Although the primary goal of the project was to raise funds to benefit Cat Island, Hunt anticipated that the project would also generate substantial profits.[8]

After securing plaintiffs' participation, Hahn approached Ducks Unlimited to gauge their interest in lending their name, logo, and reputation to the project.[9] In early June, Hahn and Hunt met with Ducks Unlimited's State Chairman, Robert Garrity, Jr., to discuss Ducks Unlimited's participation in the project. The parties dispute centers on the extent to which Garrity committed Ducks Unlimited to the project during this meeting. Ducks Unlimited concedes that Garrity authorized Hunt to use the Ducks Unlimited logo on select editions of the Cat Island Poster in exchange for a 20% licensing fee.[10] Ducks Unlimited contends that this is where the agreement ends.[11] Plaintiffs, on the other hand, argue that Garrity agreed to donate a portion of Ducks Unlimited's 20% licensing revenues to the Cat Island project and further agreed to send "email blasts" advertising the prints to Ducks Unlimited's 650, 000 members nationwide.[12] The parties did not execute a written contract.

Over the next month and a half, Hunt finished the project and began to advertise the prints. Ducks Unlimited also advertised the prints in its August 2012 "Louisiana DU News" publication.[13] By mid-August, however, Hunt became concerned about Ducks Unlimited's commitment to the project. On August 20, 2012, Hunt met with Garrity and Hahn to address his concerns. The conversation was recorded.[14] Although the meeting focused on Ducks Unlimited's concerns regarding references to the BP Oil Spill in the promotional material, Garrity also confirmed that Ducks Unlimited's licensing fees would go to general "coastal restoration" rather than the Cat Island restoration project in particular.[15] Garrity also stated that Ducks Unlimited would not send any national emails advertising the Cat Island poster.[16]

Unsatisfied with Ducks Unlimited's performance, Hunt withdrew from the project, refused to sell any additional prints, and brought this suit alleging breach of contract, detrimental reliance, unfair trade practices, and fraud under Louisiana law.[17] Ducks Unlimited now moves for summary judgment on all four of plaintiffs' claims.[18] Ducks Unlimited also moves to strike two of plaintiffs' summary judgment exhibits.[19]

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is warranted when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, the Court considers "all of the evidence in the record but refrain[s] from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence." Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but "unsupported allegations or affidavits setting forth ultimate or conclusory facts and conclusions of law' are insufficient to either support or defeat a motion for summary judgment." Galindo v. Precision Am. Corp., 754 F.2d 1212, 1216 (5th Cir. 1985); see also Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party "must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'" Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with evidence sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact, or "showing that the moving party's evidence is so sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in favor of the moving party." Id. at 1265.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or referring to evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue exists. See id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest upon the pleadings, but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue for trial. See, e.g., id.; Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 ("Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.'" (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322)).

III. DISCUSSION

a. Ducks Unlimited's Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Summary Judgment Exhibits

Ducks Unlimited moves to strike two of plaintiffs' summary judgment exhibits.[20] First, Ducks Unlimited moves to strike an email authored by P.J. Hahn arguing that it is inadmissible hearsay and that plaintiffs have not properly authenticated the email.[21] Second, Ducks Unlimited moves to strike the transcript of a recorded conversation between Michael Hunt, Robert Garrity, and P.J. Hahn arguing that transcript was not certified in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(f)(1).[22] The Court finds Ducks Unlimited's arguments to be without merit.

Ducks Unlimited first argues that the Hahn email is not competent summary judgment evidence because it is inadmissible hearsay. Hahn's email, dated August 10, 2012, is addressed to Michael Patterson, Ducks Unlimited's 2012 Publicity Chairman.[23] Hahn states, inter alia, that "our agreement was to promote the project through the media to jump start the interest, and then get email blasts to DU members (All members) to produce sales."[24] Ducks Unlimited contends that plaintiffs offer the email to prove the terms of the alleged contract, and that the email is therefore inadmissible hearsay.[25] Although not admissible to prove the truth of the contents, the Court finds the Hahn email admissible for the non-hearsay purpose of demonstrating that Ducks Unlimited was aware of plaintiffs' interpretation of the alleged contract. See Imperial Trading Co., Inc. v. Travelers Property Cas. Co. of Am., CIV. A. No. 06-4262, 2009 WL 2382787, at *1 (E.D. La. July 31, 2009) (email admissible for "the non-hearsay purpose of demonstrating that defendant was informed of the information contained in the email"). The Court also overrules Ducks Unlimited's objection to the Hahn email on authenticity grounds. As an initial matter, Michael Hunt, a recipient of the email, provided an affidavit authenticating the email.[26] Love v. Nat'l Med. Enters., 230 F.3d 765, 776 (5th Cir. 2000) ("[E]vidence may be authenticated by testimony of a witness with knowledge that a matter is what it is claimed to be."). Moreover, Ducks Unlimited produced the email to plaintiffs in discovery and therefore cannot seriously dispute the email's authenticity. See John Paul Mitchell Sys. v. Quality King Distribution, Inc., 106 F.Supp.2d 462, 472 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (a defendant's act of producing documents in response to a request for production implicitly authenticates the documents produced).

The Court likewise overrules Ducks Unlimited's objection to the transcript of the recorded conversation between Hunt, Hahn, and Garrity.[27] Ducks Unlimited does not dispute the accuracy of the transcript, but instead argues that plaintiffs failed to authenticate the transcript and failed to have the transcript certified in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(f)(1).[28] As an initial matter, Rule 30(f)(1), by its express terms, applies only to "depositions by oral examination, " and Ducks Unlimited has not provided the Court with any authority for applying the rule's certification requirement outside the deposition context. Fed.R.Civ.P. 30. Absent such authority, the Court declines Ducks Unlimited's invitation to expand the certification requirement beyond the scope contemplated by the rule. The Court likewise overrules Ducks Unlimited's objection regarding plaintiffs' alleged failure to authenticate the transcript. Like the Hahn email, Ducks Unlimited produced the transcript in ...


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