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J & J Sports Productions, Inc. v. Hernandez

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


May 14, 2010

J & J SPORTS PRODUCTIONS, INC. PLAINTIFF,
v.
JUAN JOSE HERNANDEZ, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Presently before this court is plaintiff J & J Sports Productions, Inc.'s application for default judgment.*fn1 This matter came on regularly for hearing on May 13, 2010, before the undersigned. Defendant has not appeared in this action, did not file an opposition to the application for default judgment and did not appear at the hearing. The undersigned has fully considered the briefs and record in this case and, for the reasons stated below, will recommend that plaintiff's application for default judgment be granted.

I. Background*fn2

Plaintiff, a California corporation, is a closed-circuit distributor of sports and entertainment programming. Plaintiff, by contract, purchased the commercial exhibition licensing rights to the "The Dream Match": Oscar De La Hoya v. Manny Pacquiao, Welterweight Championship Fight Program of December 6, 2008, including the main event, along with undercard (preliminary) bouts, televised replay and color commentary (hereinafter referred to as the "Program.") Thereafter, plaintiff entered into sublicensing agreements with various commercial entities throughout the United States and its territories, by which it granted limited public exhibition rights to these entities for the benefit and entertainment of the patrons within its respective establishments (i.e., hotels, racetracks, casinos, taverns, bars, restaurants, social clubs, etc.).

The transmission of the Program was encrypted and made available only to plaintiff's customers, commercial locations which paid plaintiff the requisite closed-circuit license fees in order to have authorization to view the broadcast of the Program. For example, for the exhibition of this Program, if a commercial establishment had a fire code occupancy of fifty persons, the commercial sublicense fee would have been $2,200.00.

On December 4, 2009, plaintiff filed this action alleging that defendant unlawfully intercepted and intentionally broadcast the Program at defendant's establishment for the purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and/or private financial gain. Plaintiff alleges four claims for relief, which are labeled as "Counts" in the complaint. Plaintiff's first claim for relief alleges that defendant engaged in the unauthorized publication or use of communications in violation of the Federal Communications Act of 1934 (the "Communications Act"), 47 U.S.C. §§ 605, et seq.*fn3 (Dkt No. 1 at 3.) Its second claim alleges that defendant engaged in the unauthorized interception, exhibition, publication and divulgence of the Program at the defendant's establishment, 47 U.S.C. §§ 553, et seq.*fn4 (Dkt. No. 1 at 5.) Plaintiff's third claim alleges a common law claim of conversion. (Dkt. No. 1 at 6.) Its fourth claim for relief alleges violation of California Business and Professions Code §§ 17200, et seq. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.)

Defendant Juan Jose Hernandez, sued individually and d/b/a Mazatlan Tacos Y Mariscos a/k/a Mariscos Mazatlan, operates a food and drink establishment located at 4800 Franklin Boulevard, Sacramento, California. Plaintiff avers that on December 6, 2008, defendant's establishment unlawfully displayed the Program, with approximately 35 patrons in the establishment at the time the Program was being displayed. Defendant did not obtain a license to exhibit the Program from plaintiff. Defendant's establishment did not require a cover charge to enter at the time it displayed the Program.

A proof of service filed with the court demonstrates that on January 8, 2010, plaintiff, through a process server, attempted personal service on defendant at the address of Mazatlan Tacos Y Mariscos, 4800 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento, California 95820. (Dkt. No. 6.) The declaration of service states that process was left with Antonio Glez, described as the "person in charge," with instructions to deliver the documents to defendant, and that a copy of the summons, complaint and related documents were mailed to defendant on January 11, 2010.*fn5

(Id.)

On March 11, 2010, the Clerk of Court for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California entered a certificate of default in this action against defendant. (Dkt. No. 9.) In entering the default, the Clerk of Court stated that it appeared from the record and papers on file in this action that defendant was duly served with process yet failed to appear, plead or answer plaintiff's complaint within the time allowed by law. (Id.)

On April 10, 2010, plaintiff filed the instant application for default judgment. (Dkt. No. 12.) The application seeks judgment on plaintiff's claims for violation of 47 U.S.C. § 605 and 47 U.S.C. § 553, and for common law conversion.*fn6 Plaintiff requests judgment in the amount of $112,000. Plaintiff further states that it served notice of the instant Application for Default Judgment and supplemental pleadings on defendant by mail. (Dkt. No. 12 at 4.) No response to this application is on record in this action.

II. Legal Standards

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55, default may be entered against a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought who fails to plead or otherwise defend against the action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). However, "[a] defendant's default does not automatically entitle the plaintiff to a court-ordered judgment." PepsiCo, Inc. v. Cal. Sec. Cans, 238 F. Supp. 2d 1172, 1174 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (citing Draper v. Coombs, 792 F.2d 915, 924-25 (9th Cir. 1986)); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b) (governing the entry of default judgments). Instead, the decision to grant or deny an application for default judgment lies within the district court's sound discretion. Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980). In making this determination, the court may consider the following factors:

(1) the possibility of prejudice to the plaintiff; (2) the merits of plaintiff's substantive claim; (3) the sufficiency of the complaint; (4) the sum of money at stake in the action; (5) the possibility of a dispute concerning material facts; (6) whether the default was due to excusable neglect; and (7) the strong policy underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure favoring decisions on the merits.

Eitel v. McCool, 782 F.2d 1470, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1986). Default judgments are ordinarily disfavored. Id. at 1472.

As a general rule, once default is entered, well-pleaded factual allegations in the operative complaint are taken as true, except for those allegations relating to damages. TeleVideo Sys., Inc. v. Heidenthal, 826 F.2d 915, 917-18 (9th Cir. 1987) (per curiam) (citing Geddes v. United Fin. Group, 559 F.2d 557, 560 (9th Cir. 1977) (per curiam)); see also Fair Housing of Marin v. Combs, 285 F.3d 899, 906 (9th Cir. 2002). Although well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are admitted by a defendant's failure to respond, "necessary facts not contained in the pleadings, and claims which are legally insufficient, are notestablished by default." Cripps v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 980 F.2d 1261, 1267 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Danning v. Lavine, 572 F.2d 1386, 1388 (9th Cir. 1978)); accord DIRECTV, Inc. v. Huynh, 503 F.3d 847, 854 (9th Cir. 2007) ("[A] defendant is not held to admit facts that are not well-pleaded or to admit conclusions of law" (citation and quotation marks omitted).); Abney v. Alameida, 334 F. Supp. 2d 1221, 1235 (S.D. Cal. 2004) ("[A] default judgment may not be entered on a legally insufficient claim."). A party's default conclusively establishes that party's liability, although it does not establish the amount of damages. Geddes, 559 F.2d at 560; cf. Adriana Int'l Corp. v. Thoeren, 913 F.2d 1406, 1414 (9th Cir. 1990) (stating in the context of a default entered pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 that the default conclusively established the liability of the defaulting party).

III. ANALYSIS

A. Appropriateness of the Entry of Default Judgment Under the Eitel Factors

1. Factor One: Possibility of Prejudice to Plaintiff

The first Eitel factor considers whether the plaintiff would suffer prejudice if default judgment is not entered, and such potential prejudice to the plaintiff militates in favor of granting a default judgment. See PepsiCo, Inc., 238 F. Supp. 2d at 1177. Here, plaintiff would potentially face prejudice if the court did not enter a default judgment. Absent entry of a default judgment, plaintiff would be without another recourse for recovery. Accordingly, the first Eitel factor favors the entry of default judgment.

2. Factors Two and Three: The Merits of Plaintiff's Substantive Claims and the Sufficiency of the Complaint

The undersigned considers the merits of plaintiff's substantive claims and the sufficiency of the complaint together below because of the relatedness of the two inquiries. The undersigned must consider whether the allegations in the complaint are sufficient to state a claim that supports the relief sought. See Danning, 572 F.2d at 1388; PepsiCo, Inc., 238 F. Supp. 2d at 1175.

Plaintiff seeks entry of default judgment on its claims brought pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 605(a) and 47 U.S.C. § 553(a).*fn7 Plaintiff's inability to allege the precise nature of the intercepted transmission in this case, which is largely due to defendant's failure to appear or defend itself in the action, raises a question regarding the scope of 47 U.S.C. § 605(a) and the sufficiency of plaintiff's claim under that provision. The Federal Communications Act prohibits, among other things, commercial establishments from intercepting and broadcasting radio communications to its patrons. See 47 U.S.C. § 605(a). In relevant part, 47 U.S.C. § 605(a) states:

No person not being authorized by the sender shall intercept any radio communication and divulge or publish the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of such intercepted communication to any person. No person not being entitled thereto shall receive or assist in receiving any interstate or foreign communication by radio and use such communication (or any information therein contained) for his own benefit or for the benefit of another not entitled thereto. No person having received any intercepted radio communication or having become acquainted with the contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of such communication (or any part thereof) knowing that such communication was intercepted, shall divulge or publish the existence, contents, substance, purport, effect, or meaning of such communication (or any part thereof) or use such communication (or any information therein contained) for his own benefit or for the benefit of another not entitled thereto.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that satellite television signals are covered communications under 47 U.S.C. § 605(a). DIRECTV, Inc. v. Webb, 545 F.3d 837, 844 (9th Cir. 2008).

The scope of section 605(a) is less clear with respect to transmissions intercepted from a cable system, which are expressly covered under 47 U.S.C. § 553(a). Section 553(a) states, in relevant part: "No person shall intercept or receive or assist in intercepting or receiving any communications service offered over a cable system, unless specifically authorized to do so by a cable operator or as may otherwise be specifically authorized by law." 47 U.S.C. § 553(a)(1).*fn8

Here, plaintiff has not alleged whether the transmission that defendant intercepted was from a cable system or a satellite television signal. As plaintiff's brief correctly suggests, a split of authority has developed regarding the scope of section 605(a) in that numerous courts have concluded that section 605(a) applies exclusively to broadcasts obtained by way of a satellite television signal, as opposed to transmissions over a cable system, and that section 553 applies exclusively to transmission over a cable system. Compare United States v. Norris, 88 F.3d 462, 466-69 (7th Cir. 1996) (holding that sections 553(a) and 605(a) are not "overlapping statutes" and are thus mutually exclusive), with Int'l Cablevision, Inc. v. Sykes, 75 F.3d 123, 132-33 (2d Cir. 1996) (holding that section 605 and section 553 are not completely overlapping); see also TKR Cable Co. v. Cable City Corp., 267 F.3d 196, 204-07 (3d Cir. 2001) (recognizing the disagreement between the holdings in Norris and Sykes, and holding "that § 605 encompasses the interception of satellite transmissions to the extent reception or interception occurs prior to or not in connection with, distribution of the service over a cable system, and no more" (internal quotation marks omitted)).

At a minimum, plaintiff's complaint and evidence support a conclusion that defendant intercepted, without authorization, a transmission of the Program and broadcast it to its patrons. Plaintiff essentially concedes that its complaint and the record contain no allegations or evidence substantiating the nature of the transmission that was intercepted by defendant. Plaintiff argues, however, that although it was unable to allege the precise means of transmission in this case (i.e., transmission over a cable system or satellite broadcast), it "should not be prejudiced" given defendant's failure to appear or defend itself in this action. (Pl.'s Memo. of P. & A. in Supp. of Application for Default J. at 3, Dkt. No. 12, Doc. No. 12-2.) The undersigned agrees with plaintiff that under the circumstances of this case, where plaintiff was deprived of the opportunity to conduct discovery regarding the transmission at issue because of defendant's failure to appear or defend itself in this action, plaintiff should not suffer the resulting prejudice. In any event, the split of authority presented above has little practical impact in this case because the undersigned will recommend the entry of a judgment in the total amount of $10,000, which is the maximum, non-enhanced statutory damages available under both 47 U.S.C. § 553(c)(3)(A)(ii) and 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(C)(i)(II). Thus, insofar as the merits of plaintiff's statutory claims and the sufficiency of its pleadings under the Eitel factors are concerned, the complaint and record before the undersigned favor entry of default judgment.

3. Factor Four: The Sum of Money at Stake in the Action

Under the fourth factor cited in Eitel, "the court must consider the amount of money at stake in relation to the seriousness of Defendant's conduct." PepsiCo, Inc., 238 F. Supp. 2d at 1177; see also Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Castworld Prods., Inc., 219 F.R.D. 494, 500 (C.D. Cal. 2003). Here, plaintiff seeks a significant amount of damages, i.e., $112,200. However, plaintiff's request for statutory damages and damages for conversion are tailored to defendants' specific wrongful conduct. Plaintiff seeks statutory damages under the federal statutes implicated by its claims and, although plaintiff requests $110,000 in statutory damages, the statutes involved contemplate such an award under certain circumstances.*fn9 Under these circumstances, the undersigned concludes that this factor favors the entry of default judgment.

4. Factor Five: The Possibility of a Dispute Concerning Material Facts

The facts of this case are relatively straightforward, and plaintiff has provided the court with well-pleaded allegations supporting its statutory claims and affidavits in support of its allegations. Here, the court may assume the truth of well-pleaded facts in the complaint (except as to damages) following the clerk's entry of default and, thus, there is no likelihood that any genuine issue of material fact exists.*fn10 See, e.g., Elektra Entm't Group Inc. v. Crawford, 226 F.R.D. 388, 393 (C.D. Cal. 2005) ("Because all allegations in a well-pleaded complaint are taken as true after the court clerk enters default judgment, there is no likelihood that any genuine issue of material fact exists."); accord Philip Morris USA, Inc., 219 F.R.D. at 500; PepsiCo, Inc., 238 F. Supp. 2d at 1177. 5. Factor Six: Whether the Default Was Due to Excusable Neglect Upon review of the record before the court, the undersigned finds that the default was not the result of excusable neglect. See PepsiCo, Inc., 238 F. Supp. 2d at 1177. Plaintiff made numerous attempts to personally serve each defendant with the summons and complaint and ultimately effectuated substituted service of those documents on defendant. Moreover, plaintiff served defendant by mail with notice of its application for default judgment. Despite ample notice of this lawsuit and plaintiff's intention to seek a default judgment, defendant has not appeared in this action to date. Thus, the record suggests that defendant has chosen not to defend this action, and not that the default resulted from any excusable neglect. Accordingly, this Eitel factor favors the entry of a default judgment.

6. Factor Seven: The Strong Policy Underlying the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Favoring Decisions on the Merits

"Cases should be decided upon their merits whenever reasonably possible." Eitel, 782 F.2d at 1472. However, district courts have concluded with regularity that this policy, standing alone, is not dispositive, especially where a defendant fails to appear or defend itself in an action. PepsiCo, Inc., 238 F. Supp. 2d at 1177; see also Craigslist, Inc. v. Naturemarket, Inc., ___ F. Supp. 2d ___, No. C 08-5065 PJH, 2010 WL 807446, at *16 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 5, 2010); ACS Recovery Servs., Inc. v. Kaplan, No. C 09-01304, 2010 WL 144816, at *7 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 11, 2010) (unpublished); Hartung v. J.D. Byrider, Inc., No. 1:08-cv-00960 AWI GSA, 2009 WL 1876690, at *5 (E.D. Cal. June 26, 2009) (unpublished). Accordingly, although the undersigned is cognizant of the policy in favor of decisions on the merits-and consistent with existing policy would prefer that this case be resolved on the merits-that policy does not, by itself, preclude the entry of default judgment.

Upon consideration of the Eitel factors, the undersigned concludes that plaintiff is entitled to the entry of default judgment against defendant and will make a recommendation to that effect. What remains is the determination of the amount of damages to which plaintiff is entitled.

B. Terms of the Judgment to Be Entered

After determining that a party is entitled to entry of default judgment, the court must determine the terms of the judgment to be entered. Considering plaintiff's briefing and the record in this case, including the affidavits and declarations submitted by plaintiff, the undersigned concludes that plaintiff is entitled to an award of statutory damages in the amount of $10,000 as a result of defendant's unlawful interception and broadcast of the Program, and will recommend the same.

Pursuant to section 605, a court may award statutory damages of "not less than $1,000 or more than $10,000" for violation of the Federal Communications Act, and may also award enhanced damages of up to $100,000 if the "violation was committed willfully and for purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage or private financial gain." 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(C)(i)(II), (e)(3)(C)(ii). Where a violation 47 U.S.C. § 553(a) is concerned, a court may award statutory damages of "not less than $250 or more than $10,000," and may increase the award up to $50,000 if the "violation was committed willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain." 47 U.S.C. § 553(c)(3)(A), (B).

Here, plaintiff seeks a judgment in the amount of $112,200. Plaintiff's application for default judgment and proposed order indicate that this sum consists of $110,000 for a violation of 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(B)(iii) and (e)(3)(C)(ii), and $2,200 as compensatory damages arising from defendant's act of conversion. (See Dkt. No. 12 at 3; Doc. No. 12-3 at 2.)

In this case, plaintiff's investigator provided evidence that the establishment had about 35 patrons inside and that defendant's restaurant was unlawfully broadcasting the Program on one 35 inch television mounted in the corner of the defendant's establishment. (December 11, 2008 Affidavit.) Defendant's establishment is not large, and there is no evidence of a repeat violation or additional egregious circumstances. The investigator reported that there was no cover charge for entry on the night in question. There is no evidence before the court of any promotion by defendant that the fight would be shown at the establishment. There is also no evidence before the court that a special premium on food and drink was being charged at the establishment on the night of the fight or that the establishment was doing any greater level of business on the night the fight was shown that at any other time. Finally, plaintiff has presented no evidence to the court suggesting that the defendant was a repeat broadcast piracy offender. Balancing these facts with the widespread problem of piracy and the need for an award sufficient to deter future piracy, the undersigned will recommend an award of statutory damages in the amount of $10,000. On the record before the court, the undersigned does not find that this case merits an award of enhanced damages.

Plaintiff also seeks actual damages for defendant's alleged tortious act of conversion in the amount of $2,200, which consists of the fee that defendant would have had to pay to plaintiff in order to lawfully broadcast the Program through a contractual sublicense.*fn11

(See Pl.'s Proposed Order at 2, Dkt. No. 12, Doc. No. 12-5; Gagliardi Aff. ¶ 8 & Ex. 1.) The undersigned will not recommend an award of damages with respect to plaintiff's conversion claim. The statutory damages provisions at issue serve not only a deterrent function, see J & J Sports Prods. v. Orellana, No. 08-05468 CW, 2010 WL 1576447, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 19, 2010) (unpublished), but also a compensatory function, which is evidenced by provisions that permit the award of statutory damages or actual damages in a civil action. See 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(C)(I); 47 U.S.C. § 553(c)(3)(A)(i). Here, the recommended award of statutory damages in the amount of $10,000 sufficiently compensates plaintiff, and this case does not present a set of circumstances where an additional award might be warranted. Accordingly, the undersigned will recommend that plaintiff be awarded no damages on its conversion claim.*fn12

Finally, although the prayer for relief in the complaint and the application for default judgment indicate that plaintiff seeks the award of costs and attorneys' fees, the application for default judgment contains no argument or evidence in support of such a request. Accordingly, the undersigned will not recommend the award of costs or attorneys' fees.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above, the court HEREBY RECOMMENDS that:

1. Plaintiff's application for default judgment (Dkt. No. 12) against defendant Juan Jose Hernandez, individually and d/b/a Mazatlan Tacos y Mariscos a/k/a Mariscos Mazatlan be granted;

2. The court enter judgment against defendant on plaintiff's claims brought pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 605(a) and 47 U.S.C. § 553(a);

3. The court award statutory damages in an amount of $10,000.00 to plaintiff; and

4. This case be closed.

These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within fourteen days after being served with these findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." Failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court's order. Turner v. (concluding that the exclusive right to distribute proprietary cable programming is the proper subject of a conversion claim under California law), and Don King Prods./Kingvision v. Lovato, 911 F. Supp. 419, 423 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (holding that plaintiff's alleged exclusive rights to distribute a telecast in California constituted a right to possession of property supporting a claim of conversion).

Duncan, 158 F.3d 449, 455 (9th Cir. 1998); Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153, 1156-57 (9th Cir. 1991).


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