United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
J. HAZEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
J Sports Productions, Inc. (“J & J”) filed
this action on April 6, 2018 against Cindy Torres and Ruth
Melgar, trading as Chie's Enterprising, LLC, Irene's
Pupusas, and Irene's Pupusas Restaurant, alleging
violations of 47 U.S.C. § 605 and 47 U.S.C. § 553.
ECF No. 1. The summons was returned executed on April 18,
2018. ECF No. 4. Defendants filed no responsive pleading, and
the clerk entered default on June 21, 2018. ECF No. 8.
Plaintiffs have moved for a default judgment. ECF No. 9. No.
hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md.
2016). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion for
Default Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.
J paid for and was granted “the exclusive nationwide
commercial distribution rights” to a series of boxing
matches airing on Saturday, May 2, 2015. ECF No. 1 ¶ 15.
J & J subsequently entered into sublicensing agreements
with various commercial establishments in the hospitality
industry to broadcast the match. Id. ¶ 16. In
an affidavit attached to J & J's complaint, a private
investigator declared that, on the evening of May 2, he
entered Irene's Pupusas, a restaurant in Silver Spring,
Maryland, and observed one of these boxing matches being
shown on one of the restaurant's televisions. ECF No. 1-1
at 7. Approximately 40 people were inside the
restaurant, which had a capacity of approximately 200 people.
Id. at 8. According to the rate card for the
program, J & J would have charged $6, 000 to broadcast
the match to a venue with a capacity of 101-200 people.
Id. at 10.
alleges that Defendants' broadcast of the boxing match
violated its rights as the “exclusive commercial
domestic distributor” of the match. ECF No. 1 ¶ 3.
Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants had the
“right and ability, ” and the
“obligation” to supervise the activities of
Irene's Pupusas; indeed, Plaintiff contends that
Defendants “specifically directed” the employees
of Irene's Pupusas to intercept and broadcast the program
without authorization and “had an obvious and direct
financial interest in the activities” of Irene's
Pupusas. Id. ¶¶ 8-11, 19.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
defendant's default does not automatically entitle the
plaintiff to entry of a default judgment: rather, that
decision is left to the discretion of the court.”
Choice Hotels Intern., Inc. v. Savannah Shakti
Carp., No. DKC-11-0438, 2011 WL 5118328 at * 2 (D. Md.
Oct. 25.2011). Although “[t]he Fourth Circuit has a
‘strong policy' that ‘cases be decided on
their merits, '” id. (citing United
States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 453 (4th
Cir.1993)), “default judgment may be appropriate when
the adversary process has been halted because of an
essentially unresponsive party[.]” Id.
default, the well-pled allegations in a complaint as to
liability are taken as true, although the allegations as to
damages are not.” S.E.C. v. Lawbaugh, 359
F.Supp.2d 418, 422 (D. Md. 2005). The pleadings in the
complaint must constitute a legitimate cause of action, as
analyzed under the Iqbal/Twombley pleading standard.
Baltimore Line Handling Co. v. Brophy, 771
F.Supp.2d 531, 544 (D. Md. 2011). That is, the
“complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, ‘to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plaintiffs
must “provide sufficient detail” to show “a
more-than-conceivable chance of success on the merits.”
Upstate Forever v. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners,
887 F.3d 637, 645 (4th Cir. 2018) (citing Owens v. Balt.
City State's Attorneys Ofice, 767 F.3d 379, 396 (4th
pleadings in the complaint constitute a legitimate cause of
action, the Court must make an independent determination of
damages. See Agora Fin., LLC v. Samler, 725
F.Supp.2d 491, 494 (D. Md. 2010). In doing so, the Court need
not “accept factual allegations regarding damages as
true.” Id. The Court may not, however, enter a
default judgment that differs “in kind from, or exceed
in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings.”
553 and 605 of the Federal Cable Act prohibit the
unauthorized interception or receipt of certain cable or
radio communications (including digital satellite television
transmissions), respectively. 47 U.S.C. §§ 553,
605. Plaintiff's allegations are sufficient to establish
that it owned the sole and exclusive distribution rights for
the boxing match, and that Defendants did not pay Plaintiff
for the right to broadcast the match. ECF No. 9-5 ¶ 2.
Therefore, there is no question that Chie's Enterprises,
LLC, can be held liable for violations of §§ 553 or
605. See J & J Sports Prods., Inc. v. Mayreall,
LLC, 849 F.Supp.2d 586, 588 (D. Md. 2012) (recovery may
only lie under either § 553 or § 605, but the Court
need not resolve under which of the two statutes liability
lies at this stage).
may be held liable for corporate violations of the Federal
Cable Act where “‘the individual had a right and
ability to supervise the violations, as well as an obvious
and direct financial interest in the misconduct.'”
Id. at 589 (quoting J & J Sports Prods, Inc.
v. 291 Bar & Lounge, LLC, 648 F.Supp.2d 469, 473
(E.D.N.Y. 2009)). Plaintiff's complaint contains
conclusory allegations that Defendants “had a right and
ability to supervise the violations, ” as well as
“an obvious and direct financial interest” in the
misconduct. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 8, 11. The latter of
these, in particular, constitutes a “formulaic
recitation of the elements” of the claim, amounting
to conclusory allegations “not entitled to be assumed
true.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681 (holding that
allegations a defendant “knew of, condoned, and
willfully and maliciously agreed to subject him to harsh
conditions of confinement” were insufficient to state a
claim). As in Iqbal, the Court need not
“reject these bald allegations on the ground that they
are unrealistic or nonsensical.” Id. Rather,
Plaintiff's allegations do not plead any facts that
illuminate the “obvious and direct” nature of
Defendants' financial interest in the broadcast of the
program; for example, no cover charge was paid that would
constitute direct profit for the owners due to the broadcast
of the program, ECF No. 9-6 at 1, and the Complaint is bereft
of any allegations as to the actual financial relationship
between the individual defendants, Chie's Enterprises,
LLC, and Irene's Pupusas or Irene's Pupusas
Restaurant. Because Plaintiff has not pled facts to support
the assertion that Plaintiffs had an obvious and direct
financial interest in the broadcast of the program where only
40 people were present, with no cover charge, in a ...