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Ahanchian v. Xenon Pictures

November 3, 2010

AMIR CYRUS AHANCHIAN, AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
XENON PICTURES, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; CKRUSH, INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; SAM MACCARONE, AN INDIVIDUAL; PRESTON LACY, AN INDIVIDUAL, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.
AMIR CYRUS AHANCHIAN, AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
XENON PICTURES, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION; CKRUSH INC., A DELAWARE CORPORATION; SAM MACCARONE, AN INDIVIDUAL; PRESTON LACY, AN INDIVIDUAL, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California John F. Walter, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:07-cv-06295-JFW-E.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wardlaw, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Argued and Submitted February 2, 2010 -- Pasadena, California

Before: Andrew J. Kleinfeld, Kim McLane Wardlaw and Consuelo M. Callahan, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Procedure "is a means to an end, not an end in itself-the 'handmaid rather than the mistress' of justice." Charles E. Clark, History, Systems and Functions of Pleading, 11 Va. L. Rev. 517, 542 (1925). While district courts enjoy a wide latitude of discretion in case management, this discretion is circumscribed by the courts' overriding obligation to construe and administer the procedural rules so as "to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding." Fed. R. Civ. P. 1. These consolidated appeals arise from a district court's refusal to exercise discretion consistent with the dictates of Rule 1.

Amir Cyrus Ahanchian's counsel moved for a one-week extension of time to file his opposition to defendants' summary judgment motion, citing as good cause: (1) the extremely short eight day response deadline (with three of those days falling over a federal holiday weekend) created by the combination of an unusual local rule and defendants' liti-gation tactics; (2) his preplanned absence, beginning the day defendants filed the motions, in fulfillment of an out-of-state commitment; and (3) the large number of supporting exhibits attached to defendants' motion. Defense counsel, without regard to the previous professional courtesies extended to him by Ahanchian's counsel, vigorously opposed the extension. Despite the presence of what most reasonable jurists would regard as good cause and the absence of prejudice to anyone, the district court denied the motion. Even so, Ahanchian's counsel managed to file the opposition, albeit three days late, due to a calendaring mistake and computer problems, along with a motion asking that the district court accept the late-filed opposition. Five days later, the district court construed that motion as one for reconsideration under Rule 60(b), and, applying an incorrect legal standard, denied it. That same day, having plaintiff's opposition in hand, but refusing to consider it, the district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, failing to provide any legal reasoning or citation to law or facts.*fn1 To add injury to insult, the district court awarded defense counsel $247,171.32 in attorneys' fees. We conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying both the request for an extension of time and the motion to accept the late-filed opposition, and erred in granting defendants' motion for summary judgment and in awarding attorneys' fees to defense counsel.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

These appeals arise from the creation of the movie National Lampoon's TV: The Movie, theatrically released in November 2006. Unlike traditional films, this movie eschews plot or character development, instead lampooning several high profile television programs in a series of independent comedic skits. This lawsuit involves the disputed authorship of a number of these skits. Ahanchian claims that ten skits he authored (and subsequently copyrighted) either appear verbatim in the movie or serve as the basis for skits included in the final version of the movie.

Ahanchian filed a complaint on September 17, 2007 against Sam Maccarone (director and writer of the film), Preston Lacy (writer and actor), Xenon Pictures, Inc. (distributor), and CKrush, Inc. (producer) asserting causes of action for copyright infringement, breach of an implied contract, and unfair competition in violation of the Lanham Act. Apparently, Maccarone and Lacy were difficult to locate. Defense counsel for Xenon Pictures, who had been appointed by the district court to represent Maccarone and Lacy, sought additional time to answer Ahanchian's complaint on their behalf. Exhibiting the professional courtesy expected of officers of the court, Ahanchian's counsel stipulated to an extension of time- which stipulation the district court then rejected.

On January 7, 2008, the district court issued its scheduling order establishing, among other deadlines: November 18, 2008, as the date for the commencement of trial; September 2, 2008, as the discovery cut-off date; and September 15, 2008, as the last day for hearing motions. Maccarone and Lacy did not file their answer to the complaint until June 30, 2008. Because of Maccarone and Lacy's late entrance into the litigation, the parties entered into a joint stipulation on July 9, 2008, seeking to extend by twelve weeks all the deadlines established by the scheduling order to allow more time for discovery. The district court again denied the stipulated exten- sion of time, finding that the parties had failed to demonstrate good cause as to why discovery could not be completed by September 2, 2008.

Because the district court's scheduling order set September 15, 2008, as the last day for hearing motions, the local rules in force at the time made August 25, 2008, the last date to file any motion for summary judgment. See C.D. Cal. Local R. 6-1 (2008) (requiring that any motion be filed within twenty-one days before the hearing date). Though there is no indication in the record that they did so, the defendants assert that they informed Ahanchian's counsel on August 6, 2008, that they would be filing a motion for summary judgment. On August 25, 2008, the last possible day for filing, the defendants moved for summary judgment seeking dismissal of all of Ahanchian's claims and for terminating sanctions resulting from a discovery dispute. These motions were accompanied by roughly 1,000 pages of supporting exhibits and declarations. Because the defendants chose to wait until the last day to file their motions, the local rules operated to set a deadline of September 2, 2008-the day after Labor Day-for Ahanchian to review these materials and to prepare and file his oppositions. Ahanchian, therefore, was left with a mere eight days, three over the Labor Day weekend, to draft his oppositions to the motions. See C.D. Cal. Local R. 7-9 (2008) (requiring any opposition to be filed no later than fourteen days before the hearing date); Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(a)(1)(c) (extending deadlines by an additional day where a deadline would otherwise fall on a holiday). Also, Ahanchian's lead counsel was scheduled to travel out of state on August 25 to fulfil a previously-scheduled commitment.*fn2

Given the already unreasonably strained deadlines, within which fell an out-of-state commitment and Labor Day week- end, on August 28, 2008, Ahanchian asked defense counsel to stipulate to a one-week continuance of the hearing date for defendants' motions, along with corresponding one-week extensions of the deadlines for Ahanchian to file oppositions and for defendants to reply. Defense counsel refused to so stipulate. The very next day, on August 29, 2008, Ahanchian filed an ex parte application pursuant to Local Rule 7-19 seeking a one-week extension. Ahanchian recited as good cause for the requested extension of time that: (1) defendants had waited until the last day to file their motions, choosing to file four days before the Labor Day weekend, and with knowledge of pending depositions; (2) the accompanying motions and exhibits amounted to 1,000 pages of materials; (3) Ahanchian's lead counsel had left the state on August 25 on a pre-scheduled trip and ...


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