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J&J Sports Productions Inc. v. Three Brothers of Hyattsville LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 8, 2016



          Charles B. Day United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's Motion”) (ECF 22). The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's Motion and the opposition and reply thereto. No hearing is deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion.

         I. Factual Background

         In its Complaint, Plaintiff contends that it purchased “exclusive nationwide television distribution rights to the Floyd Mayweather, Jr. v. Robert Guerrero, WBC Welterweight Championship Fight Program which telecast nationwide on Saturday, May 4, 2013” (the “Program”). Compl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff states that “with full knowledge that the Program was not to be intercepted, received and exhibited” unless authorized to do so, Defendant unlawfully obtained and published the Program in its restaurant for “commercial advantage or private financial gain.” Compl. ¶ 11. In support thereof, Plaintiff attaches an affidavit from an investigator who “observed the unlawful exhibition” of the Program at Defendant's restaurant. Compl. ¶ 12. Accordingly, Plaintiff seeks damages, costs and attorney's fees under 47 U.S.C. 605, 47 U.S.C. 553, and a common law claim for conversion. Compl. ¶¶ 17, 22 and 26.

         II. Standard of Review

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is deemed genuine only if the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” and a fact is deemed material only if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Supreme Court has explained that the burden of proof lies with the movant to identify “those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A court reviewing a motion for summary judgment must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         III. Analysis

         a. Defendant cannot assert the affirmative defense of laches in its opposition.

         Defendant contends that the doctrine of laches may bar Plaintiff's claims. Def.'s Opp'n 5. Case law is clear that Defendant has a burden of establishing this affirmative defense. “Since laches is an affirmative defense, the burden of proving laches is on the defendant.” Randall v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 512 F.Supp. 150, 151 (D. Md. 1981) citing Giddens v. Isbrandtsen Co., 355 F.2d 125, 121 (4th Cir. 1966).

         In order to establish a laches defense, Defendant must set forth a prima facie case demonstrating Plaintiff's lack of diligence and prejudice to Defendant in pursuing its claims. “In order to carry that burden Defendant must show lack of diligence by Plaintiff, and prejudice to Defendant resulting from that delay.” Id. citing Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 282 (1961). In asserting that Plaintiff has not diligently pursued its claims, Defendant notes that Plaintiff “waited more than two years from the time the fight was shown before it brought suit” against Defendant. Def.'s Opp'n 5. The alleged wrongful conduct occurred on May 4, 2013, and Plaintiff did not file the Complaint until May 12, 2015.

         Assuming arguendo, that the mere passage of two years in tantamount to unreasonable delay, Defendant must still offer evidence of prejudice incurred as a result. Said “prejudice” looks to the “inaccessibility of witnesses, the dimming of recollections and other disadvantages incident to the lapse of time.” Giddens, at 127. Defendant's “proof of prejudice” comes by way of an affidavit that was filed in support of an earlier motion. Affidavit of Gerardo Labastida, ECF No. 12-1. In essence, Defendant claims that it has been difficult to investigate the allegations and determine the accuracy of the claims asserted by Plaintiff. Defendant contends that employees who would have been present no longer are employed and that others would not remember the relevant events. Despite these contentions, Defendant has made no suggestion that it is unable to locate these witnesses nor that they were exposed to relevant information that has since been forgotten. Not a single former employee has been identified by name, or provided a factually based supporting affidavit. Defendant is similarly not helped by the affiant's representation that he was not at the subject premises on the occasion in question. The affiant's absence is a factual event that could never have been helpful to the defense. Simply put, Defendant has not shown that the passage of time created prejudice. Defendant has not established a laches defense. Defendant has failed to show a lack of diligence causing prejudice on the part of Plaintiff.

         The Court is also of the view that Defendant cannot assert this affirmative defense as a response to Plaintiff's Motion. Defendant must do so independently and by way of its own motion. Moreover, the statutory causes of action are not equitable in nature. As such, the equitable defense of laches does not apply. Lyons Partnership, L.P. v. Morris Costumes, Inc., 243 F.3d 789, 797 (4th Cir. 2001). Defendant's suggestion of a laches defense is entirely misplaced.

         b. Defendant's use of the Maryland “door closing” statute is of no avail.

         Like many other states, the Maryland legislature has passed a “door closing” statute prohibiting certain entities from filing suit in state courts in the absence of ...

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