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WH Midwest, LLC v. A.D. Baker Homes, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

September 4, 2019

WH MIDWEST, LLC d/b/a WAYNE HOMES, Plaintiff,
v.
A.D. BAKER HOMES, INC., MJB DRAFTING SERVICES, LLC, MATTHEW BLACK, CAYLA BLACK and UNKNOWN ARCHITECT NUMBER 1, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART AS FRAMED DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT AND DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS CO-DEFENDANTS' CROSSCLAIMS FOR INDEMNIFICATION

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Background

         This is a copyright infringement action arising out of plaintiff's possession of certain rights and interests in the copyrighted “Covington” home plan (Copyright Registration Number VA0001842229) and the “Westport” home plan (Copyright Registration Number VA0002081794) (hereinafter, collectively the “Copyrighted Works”). Plaintiff, WH Midwest, LLC, doing business under the registered trade name “Wayne Homes” (hereinafter “Wayne Homes”), contends that the copyrighted architectural works and copyrighted depiction of the materials described in the Copyrighted Works constitute original material that is copyrightable under federal law. ECF No. 1 at 3.

         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction of this civil action because this is an action for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq. (hereinafter “Copyright Act”), and has supplemental jurisdiction over the common law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         Plaintiff filed its complaint (ECF No. 1) for copyright infringement (Count I), unfair competition (Count II) and unjust enrichment (Count III) against defendant A.D. Baker Homes, Inc. (“A.D. Baker Homes”), defendant MJB Drafting Services, LLC (“MJB Drafting Services”), defendants Matthew Black and Cayla Black (jointly referred to herein as the “Black defendants” or the “Blacks”), and defendant Unknown Architect Number 1. ECF No. 1.

         For relief, plaintiff seeks actual and compensatory damages and/or disgorgement of infringer profits and/or statutory damages, for return or destruction of the Infringing Ortiz Plans and/or the Infringing Black Plans or any other plans prepared for or used in the construction of the Infringing Black House, for preliminary and permanent injunctions pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 502 prohibiting defendants from infringing Wayne Homes' copyrights including, but not limited to, an injunction prohibiting further creation, use, or distribution of copies of the Copyrighted Works, or any derivatives thereof, including copies of all construction plans, pictorial and nonpictorial representations of the house based on the Infringing Ortiz Plans and/or the Infringing Black Plans or any other plans prepared for or used in the construction of the Infringing Black House; construction, marketing, or sale of any house based on the Copyrighted Works; any other use of any other Wayne Homes' Copyrighted Works; removal of all photographs and other depictions from the A.D. Baker Homes' website, Facebook page or other on-line platform; for its costs incurred or an award pre-judgment interest on the amount of all damages and attorney's fees; and such other and further relief this Court deems just and equitable. ECF No. 1 at 13-14.

         Defendants A.B. Baker Homes and MJB Drafting Services then filed counterclaims against the plaintiff for declaratory judgment of invalidity of copyright (Count I), declaratory judgment of invalidity of non-infringement (Count II), abuse of process (Count III), commercial disparagement and trade libel (Count IV), seeking both damages and injunctive relief. ECF Nos. 14 and 15.

         Defendant A.B. Baker Homes also filed a motion to dismiss all claims made against it for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 12. In its memorandum in support (ECF No. 12-1), defendant states that the allegations by plaintiff fail to state a legal claim and further contends that plaintiff's position in this lawsuit is at odds with the fundamental principles of and policy behind architectural copyright law. Id. at 1. First, defendant asserts that plaintiff, through Wayne Homes' website, explicitly grants permission to use their plans for personal use. Id. at 5. Second, defendant A.D. Baker Homes contends that Robert Ortiz owned the plans used to build his home and that the copyright of the “Westport design” is not valid. Id. at 6. Third, defendant asserts that despite the common appearance of traditional elements of the home, the Blacks' house is not substantially similar to the “Covington” as a matter of law, and adds that the design was an independent creation and therefore does not infringe upon plaintiff's works. Id. at 8, 10. Fourth, defendant argues that the plaintiff “cannot claim that the Craftsman home style is original, protected work.” Id. at 12. Fifth, defendant contends that plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted for its cause of action for unfair competition and false designation of origins, asserting that plaintiff has not pled evidence of consumer confusion as required to sustain a claim of unfair competition under the Federal Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125. Id. at 12-15. Sixth, defendant asserts that plaintiff's unjust enrichment claim is preempted by the Copyright Act. Id. at 16. Lastly, defendant “maintains that the misuse of copyright defense applies in this case because a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff is attempting to unfairly and impermissibly leverage its copyrights in a manner that is contrary to public policy under copyright law.” Id. at 17. Ultimately, defendant contends that its motion satisfies its burden of proof for dismissal of plaintiff's copyright infringement claim, unfair competition claim, and unjust enrichment claim for failure to state a claim and asserts that plaintiff's complaint and the documents annexed thereto as exhibits confirm that plaintiff has failed to set forth facts that state a claim that is plausible on its face. Id. at 17.

         Defendant MJB Drafting Services also filed a motion to dismiss all claims made against it for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and, in support, states that it fully joins with the motion to dismiss filed by defendant A.D. Baker Homes. ECF No. 13.

         Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motions to dismiss by A.D. Baker Homes and MJB Drafting Services (ECF No. 20), and states that the defendants' motions to dismiss essentially ask this Court to ignore the detailed allegations of defendants' direct access to the Copyrighted Works and materials and copying of the Copyrighted Works and construction of homes whose exterior are substantially similar to plaintiff's copyrighted Wayne Homes' designs, and asks this Court to focus on matters outside of the scope of the pleadings, try the facts of the case on unsupported argument, and then immediately terminate the litigation. ECF No. 21 at 1. In relying on materials outside of and not referred to in the complaint, plaintiff contends that defendants here seek to move the litigation from complaint to summary judgment, without filing an answer and without time for meaningful discovery for the development of the facts of the case. Id. Plaintiff asserts that, in this case, Wayne Homes has pleaded its Copyrighted Works are original and unique and that the complaint and the exhibits submitted certainly provide sufficient information and facts to prove viable copyright ownership, copyrightability in the Copyrighted Works, and defendants' infringement of the same. Id. at 7. Further, plaintiff contends that it has sufficiently alleged willful conduct in infringing on protected works and should be permitted to establish such claims through discovery. Id. at 10.

         Defendants A.D. Baker Homes and MJB Drafting Services filed a reply to plaintiff's response in opposition (ECF No. 22), and state that plaintiff's complaint clearly fails to state necessary elements to proceed with its various copyright infringement claims and that the complaint fails to meet the “greater particularity” requirement because plaintiff has not pled enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of copyright infringement. ECF No. 22 at 2. Defendants argue that plaintiff's response fails to address the fact that it explicitly grants permission to use its plans for personal use and plaintiff's claims do not meet the pleading standard necessary to state a claim under the “greater particularity” requirement necessary for copyright infringement claims. Id. at 2, 4. Further, defendants assert that plaintiff has offered no meaningful rebuttal to defendants' motions to dismiss plaintiff's claims as they pertain to unjust enrichment or unfair competition. Id. at 9. Therefore, defendants ask this Court to dismiss plaintiff's claims as a matter of law.

         Defendants Matthew Black and Cayla Black then filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and/or motion to join co-defendants' motions to dismiss (ECF No. 23), and move this Court for permission to join in the motions to dismiss filed by the co-defendants A.D. Baker Homes and MJB Drafting Services and to adopt their memoranda in support of the same, to the extent applicable as their own. ECF No. 23-1 at 2.

         Additionally, the Black defendants filed an answer to the complaint and asserted a crossclaim for indemnification against co-defendants A.D. Baker Homes and MJB Drafting Services. ECF No. 24.

         In response, because the Black defendants raise no new or different issues, argument, or law in their motion to join defendants' motions to dismiss, plaintiff filed a response incorporating by reference its response in opposition to A.D. Baker Homes and MJB Drafting Services' motions to dismiss. ECF No. 28.

         Defendants A.D. Baker Homes and MJB Drafting Services then filed motions to dismiss the Black defendants' crossclaims for indemnification. ECF Nos. 29 and 30. In support, defendants assert that for substantially the same reasons asserted in their motions to dismiss plaintiff's complaint, A.D. Baker Homes and MJB Drafting Services deny the Blacks' crossclaims for ...


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