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Patrick Collins, Inc., A California Corporation v. John Does 1 Through 34

February 13, 2013

PATRICK COLLINS, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN DOES 1 THROUGH 34, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Gonzalo P. Curiel United States District Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO

SEVER AND DISMISS FOR MISJOINDER [DKT. NO. 10, 15]

On October 18, 2012, Defendant John Doe "X" ("Defendant X") filed a motion to dismiss for misjoinder. (Dkt. No. 10.) On November 5, 2012, Defendant John Doe "30" ("Defendant 30") filed a motion to sever and dismiss all Defendant Does. (Dkt. No. 15.) For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to sever pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 20 and 21.

Background

This is an action for copyright infringement. Plaintiff Patrick Collins, Inc. ("Plaintiff" or "Patrick Collins") is the owner of United States Copyright Registration Number PA0001788533 (the "Registration") for the motion picture entitled "Best New Starlets 2012" (the "Work"). (Dkt. No. 1 ("Compl.") at 2.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants used a software program called BitTorrent to download and upload copies of the Work over the internet. (Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiff alleges that each Defendant installed a BitTorrent Client onto his or her computer. (Id.) The BitTorrent Client is a software program that implements the BitTorrent protocol and allows users to transmit data over the internet. (Id. at 3.) BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file sharing protocol which operates by having users simultaneously upload and download pieces of a given file. (Id.) Once an individual has downloaded every piece of the sought-after file, the BitTorrent Client reassembles the pieces and the user is able to utilize the file; in this case, view the movie. (Id. at 6.)*fn1

An IP address is a number that is assigned by an Internet Service Provider ("ISP") to devices, such as computers, that are connected to the internet. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff claims that the ISP to which an internet user subscribes can correlate the user's IP address to the user's true identity. (Id.) Plaintiff retained IPP, Limited ("IPP") to identify the IP addresses that used BitTorrent to reproduce and distribute the Work. (Id. at 6.)

On June 18, 2012, Plaintiff brought this action against the undetermined Doe users of the IP addresses identified by IPP, alleging copyright infringement and contributory infringement pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §§ 106 and 501. (Id. at 7-8.) Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief to prevent further unauthorized distribution as well as at least $150,000 in damages per defendant. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff asserts that joinder of all Defendants is proper because Defendants all participated in reproducing the same file, the Work, over BitTorrent. (Compl. at 6.) Pending before this Court are Defendant X's motion to dismiss for misjoinder, Defendant Y's motion for protective order, and Defendant 30's motion to dismiss all Defendants. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 10 and 15.) The Court first turns to the issue of dismissal.

Discussion

I. Legal Standard

Under Rule 20(a)(2), permissive joinder of defendants is proper if: "(A) any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2). Rule 20(a)(2) is designed to promote judicial economy and trial convenience. See Mosley v. Gen. Motors, 497 F.2d 1330, 1332-33 (8th Cir. 1974). "The 'same transaction' requirement of Rule 20 refers to 'similarity in the factual background of a claim; claims that arise out of a systematic pattern of events' and have a 'very definite logical relationship.'" Hubbard v. Hougland, No. 09-0939, 2010 U.S. Dist. WL 1416691, at *7 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 5, 2010) (quoting Bautista v. Los Angeles County, 216 F.3d 837, 842-843 (9th Cir. 2000)). In addition, "the mere fact that all [of a plaintiff's] claims arise under the same general law does not necessarily establish a common question of law or fact." Coughlin v. Rogers, 130 F.3d 1348, 1351 (9th Cir. 1997).

However, "even once [the Rule 20(a)] requirements are met, a district court must examine whether permissive joinder would 'comport with the principles of fundamental fairness' or would result in prejudice to either side." Coleman v. Quaker Oats Company, 232 F.3d 1271, 1296 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Desert Empire Bank v. Insurance Co. of North America, 623 F.2d 1371, 1375 (9th Cir. 1980) (finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it severed certain plaintiff's claims without finding improper joinder)). Under Rule 20(b), the district court may sever claims or parties in order to avoid prejudice. Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(b). Courts have also exercised their discretion to sever where "[i]nstead of making the resolution of [the] case more efficient . . . joinder would instead confuse and complicate the issues for all parties involved." Wynn v. National Broadcasting Company, 234 F. Supp. 2d 1067, 1088 (C.D. Cal. 2002) (finding that even where Rule 20 requirements for joinder are satisfied, the Court may exercise its discretion "to sever for at least two reasons: (1) to prevent jury confusion and judicial inefficiency, and (2) to prevent unfair prejudice to the [defendants]") (citing Coleman, 232 F.3d at 1296).

The proper remedy for misjoinder is to sever misjoined parties and dismiss claims against them, provided that "no substantial right will be prejudiced by the severance." Coughlin, 130 F.3d at 1350.

II. Defendants Should be Severed

Defendant X argues that Plaintiff improperly joined the putative defendants because the alleged conduct was not part of the same transaction or occurrence, and that concerns of judicial efficiency and fairness to the parties counsel in favor of the Court exercising its discretion to sever. Defendant 30 further argues that the "swarm joinder" theory alleged by Plaintiff fails to ...


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