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Morris v. Atchity

October 15, 2010

MARGARET MORRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH ATCHITY; ATCHITY ENTERTAINMENT INTERNATIONAL, JOHN REID, SONIC AGE LTD., THE WRITER'S LIFELINE INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Ronald S.W. Lew Senior, U.S. District Court Judge

ORDER RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT[116]

On October 5, 2010, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment or, in the alternative, Partial Summary Judgment [116] came on for regular calendar before this Court.

The Court having reviewed all papers submitted pertaining to this Motion and having considered all arguments presented to the Court, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS:

The Court hereby DENIES IN PART AND GRANTS IN PART Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the alternative, Partial Summary Judgment.

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, affidavits, and other supporting papers demonstrate that there are no genuine issues of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). When making this determination, the Court must view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A "genuine" dispute is one that is supported by evidence sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to find in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. at 247-48.

Defendants first assert Summary Judgment as to all claims against Defendant John Reid on the grounds that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction. As to all Defendants, seven grounds are asserted for Summary Judgment, or in the alternative, Partial Summary Judgment: 1) As to Plaintiff's claim for Copyright Infringement, no reasonable juror could find substantial similarity between Plaintiff's Work, "Jesus Augustus: From Imperial Cult to Christianity" (hereinafter, "Work"), and the novel based on the Work, "The Ashes of Christ / The August God" (hereinafter, "Derivative Work"), 2) as to Plaintiff's claim for Breach of Implied Contract, the claim is preempted by the Copyright Act, 3) as to Plaintiff's claim for Fraud, no reasonable juror could find that Defendants acted with fraudulent intent or that Plaintiff suffered any damage as a result of any misrepresentation, 4) as to Plaintiff's claim for Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage, Plaintiff cannot establish each element of the claim as a matter of law, 5) as to Plaintiff's claim for Accounting, Plaintiff has failed to establish any basis for Defendants' liability that entitles her to such a remedy, 6) as to Plaintiff's claim for Declaratory Relief, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to Plaintiff's lack of ownership of the copyright in the Derivative Work, and 7) as to Defendants' counterclaims for Fraud on the Copyright Office, Declaratory Judgment for Non-Infringement, and Defamation against Defendant Dr. Kenneth Atchity, there are no genuine issues of material fact precluding judgment in favor of Defendants on these counterclaims.

1. Personal Jurisdiction

The exercise of personal jurisdiction over a nonresident Defendant requires the presence of two factors: 1) the forum state's laws must provide a basis for exercising personal jurisdiction, and 2) the assertion of personal jurisdiction must comport with due process. Hirsch v. Blue Cross, Blue Shield, 800 F.2d 1474, 1477 (9th Cir. 1986). The California long-arm statute permits the exercise of jurisdiction "on any basis not inconsistent with the Constitution . . . of the United States." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 410.10. This statute renders the state and federal limits of jurisdiction coextensive. Roth v. Garcia Marquez, 942 F.2d 617, 620 (9th Cir. 1991). Thus, only a due process analysis is required.

Due process requires that a defendant have "certain minimum contacts with [the forum] such that the maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice." Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945). The defendant's contacts must be "such that the [defendant] should reasonably anticipate being haled into court there." World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson, 444 U.S. 286, 297 (1980). Depending upon the nature and scope of the defendant's contacts with the forum, jurisdiction may be general or specific to the cause of action. Roth, 942 F.2d at 620 (citing Data Disc v. Sys. Tech. Assoc., 557 F.2d 1280, 1287 (9th Cir. 1977)).

The Court finds there is no genuine issue of material fact as to whether this Court has personal jurisdiction over Defendant John Reid. First, the Court finds no genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Reid possesses sufficient minimum contacts with the state of California in order to support a finding that this Court has either general or specific jurisdiction over Reid. Second, the Court finds that Reid is not an alter-ego of Defendant Sonic Age Ltd. (hereinafter, "Sonic Age"), and accordingly personal jurisdiction over Reid cannot be supported on this alternate basis.

A. Minimum Contacts

The Court finds that Reid does not possess sufficient "minimum contacts" with California to support a finding that this Court has personal jurisdiction over Reid. Plaintiff's arguments that Reid has minimum contacts with the state stemming from his business and personal relationships are unpersuasive. Plaintiff fails to put forth sufficient evidence to show that Reid, who the Court finds has resided in and been domiciled in the United Kingdom his entire life, maintained substantial contacts with California in his individual capacity such that he could reasonably expect to be haled into Court in this state. The evidence offered by Plaintiff is insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether he possesses the constitutionally required minimum contacts with California, and accordingly this Court's personal jurisdiction over Reid cannot be supported on this basis.

B. Alter-Ego

Plaintiff asserts an alternate basis for this Court's personal jurisdiction over Defendant Reid: that Reid is an alter-ego of his company, Sonic Age.

The existence of a relationship between a parent and its subsidiaries is not sufficient alone to establish personal jurisdiction over the parent on the basis of the subsidiaries' minimum contacts with the forum. See Transure, Inc. v. Marsh & McLennan, Inc., 766 F.2d 1297, 1299 (9th Cir. 1985). Nonetheless, under the alter-ego exception "if the parent and subsidiary are not really separate entities ... the local subsidiary's contacts with the forum may be imputed to the foreign parent corporation." Doe I v. Unocal Corp., 27 F.Supp.2d 1174, 1186 (9th Cir. 1998) (quotation omitted). "To satisfy [this] alter ego exception ... the plaintiff must make out a prima facie case 1) that there is such unity of interest and ownership that the separate personalities no longer exist and 2) that failure to disregard their separate identities would result in fraud or injustice." Harris Rutsky & Co. Ins. Servs., Inc. v. Bell & Clements Ltd., 328 F.3d 1122, 1134 (9th Cir. 2003). The plaintiff must show that "the parent exercises such control over the subsidiary so as to render the latter the mere instrumentality of the former." Id. (quotation omitted).

The Court finds that the underlying facts support a finding that Defendants Reid and Sonic Age are distinct and not alter-egos of one another. Plaintiff has failed to put forth any evidence or facts to support a finding that Reid is using Sonic Age solely to shield himself from personal liability or that he has taken any actions suggesting that the required unity of interest is present. Therefore, Plaintiff's arguments fail to establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether Defendants Reid and Sonic Age are alter-egos of one another.

Accordingly, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to all claims against ...


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