United States District Court, District of Maryland
Ellen Lipton Hollander United States District Judge
Plaintiff J & J Sports Productions, Inc. (“J & J”) filed suit against three defendants: Marlene R. King; Michael A. John; and BLK 1 Inc., d/b/a La’Sons Bar and Grill (“La’Sons”), which is located in Baltimore, Maryland. ECF 1 (Complaint). According to plaintiff, defendants are liable for unlawfully intercepting plaintiff’s broadcast of a particular boxing match, in violation of 47 U.S.C. §§ 553 and 605. In the Complaint, plaintiff seeks, inter alia, statutory penalties, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees.
Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss (ECF 12, “Mot.”), supported by a memorandum (ECF 12-2, “Mem.”) (collectively, the “Motion”). Plaintiff opposes the Motion (ECF 13, “Opposition” or “Opp.”).
No hearing is necessary to resolve the Motion. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I will deny the Motion.
J & J was granted the television broadcast distribution rights for a boxing match between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Saúl Álvarez, which occurred on September 14-15, 2013 (the “Broadcast”). Complaint ¶ 23. The Broadcast “originated via satellite uplink, and was subsequently re-transmitted to cable systems and satellite companies via satellite signal.” Id. J & J entered into agreements with various Maryland entities, permitting those entities to exhibit the Broadcast to their customers. Id. ¶ 24.
Regarding La’Sons, plaintiff alleges that it “had a capacity for 101-200 people on September 15, 2014, ” and that it collected a $10 cover charge from patrons that day. Complaint ¶¶ 18-19. In addition, it allegedly “advertised for the exhibition of Plaintiff’s broadcast within” La’Sons. Id. ¶ 21. With respect to Ms. King, plaintiff alleges that she was an “officer, director, shareholder, and/or principal” of La’Sons and served as its resident agent; that she had “supervisory capacity and control over the activities occurring within” La’Sons on September 15, 2014; that she had “close control over the internal operating procedures and employment practices” of La’Sons at that time; that she “received a financial benefit from the operations of” La’Sons on September 15, 2014; and that she “advertised for the exhibition of Plaintiff’s broadcast within” La’Sons. Complaint ¶¶ 9-12, 14, 20.
J & J alleges that defendants or their agents, “with full knowledge that the Broadcast was not to be received and exhibited by entities unauthorized to do so . . . unlawfully intercepted, received and/or de-scrambled said satellite signal, and did exhibit the Broadcast . . . at the time of its transmission willfully and for purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage or private financial gain.” Complaint ¶ 26. Defendants, by using “an illegal satellite receiver, ” allegedly “intercepted Plaintiff’s signal and/or used a device to intercept Plaintiff’s broadcast, which originated via satellite uplink and then re-transmitted via satellite or microwave signal to various cable and satellite systems.” Id. ¶ 27. J & J asserts that there exist “multiple illegal methods of accessing the Broadcast, including but not limited to [:] (1) splicing an additional coaxial cable line or redirecting a wireless signal from an adjacent residence into a business establishment; (2) commercially misusing cable or satellite by registering same as a residence when it is, in fact, a business; or (3) taking a lawfully obtained box or satellite receiver from a private residence, into a business.” Id.
However, “[p]rior to discovery, ” J & J “is unable to determine” the precise method that defendants used to obtain the Broadcast. Complaint ¶ 27. In particular, plaintiff asserts that, absent discovery, it “cannot determine if Defendants intercepted Plaintiff’s signal via a cable system, in violation of 47 U.S.C. § 553, or via a satellite transmission, in violation of 47 U.S.C. § 605.” Id. Accordingly, plaintiff raises claims under 47 U.S.C. § 605 (Count I) and 47 U.S.C. § 553 (Count II) of the Federal Cable Communications Act of 1984, Pub. L. 98–549, 98 Stat. 2780, sometimes referred to as the “Cable Act.” Nevertheless, plaintiff “recognizes that Defendants can be liable for only one (1) of these statutes.” Complaint ¶ 39. Additional facts are included in the Discussion.
II. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Standard
Defendants’ Motion is predicated on Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendant with “fair notice” of the claim and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 n.3 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
A plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2). Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. But, the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Id.; see Painter’s Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). To satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. In other words, the complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570; see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684; Simmons v. United Mortg. and Loan Inv., LLC, 634 F.3d 754, 768 (4th Cir. 2011).
In reviewing such a motion, a court “‘must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ’” and must “‘draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.’” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 402 (2011); Monroe v. City of Charlottesville, 579 F.3d 380, 385-86 (4th Cir. 2009), cert. denied, 559 U.S. 991 (2010). However, a complaint that provides no more than “labels and conclusions, ” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Moreover, the court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986); Monroe, 579 F.3d at 385-86.
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion will be granted if the “well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted). “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without A Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S.Ct. 1960 (2012). “‘Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory.’” Hartmann v. Calif. Dept. of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1122 (9th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted); accord Commonwealth Prop. Advocates, LLC v. Mortg. Elec. Reg. Sys., Inc., 680 F.3d 1194, 1201-02 (10th Cir. 2011) (“When reviewing a 12(b)(6) dismissal, ...