(PS) Douglas v. Universal Music Group, No. 2:2023cv02567 - Document 3 (E.D. Cal. 2024)

Court Description: FINDINGS and RECOMMENDATIONS signed by Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman on 2/5/2024 RECOMMENDING the action be dismissed with prejudice and 2 Motion for IFP denied as moot. Referred to Judge Kimberly J. Mueller. Objections due within 14 days after being served with these Findings and Recommendations. (Woodson, A)

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(PS) Douglas v. Universal Music Group Doc. 3 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 ANJON MARQUIS DOUGLAS, 12 Plaintiff, 13 No. 2:23-cv-02567-KJM-KJN (PS) FINDINGS AND RECOMENDATIONS v. 14 UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP, 15 Defendant. 16 17 Plaintiff, proceeding without counsel in this action, requests leave to proceed in forma 18 pauperis (“IFP”). 1 (ECF No. 2.) See 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (authorizing the commencement of an 19 action “without prepayment of fees or security” by a person who is unable to pay such fees). 20 Because the undersigned finds that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action, the 21 undersigned recommends that the action be dismissed without prejudice, and that plaintiff’s 22 application to proceed in forma pauperis in this court be denied as moot. See United Investors 23 Life Ins. Co. v. Waddell & Reed Inc., 360 F.3d 960, 967 (9th Cir. 2004) (noting the federal 24 court’s independent duty to ensure it has subject matter jurisdiction in the case). 25 //// 26 //// 27 28 1 Actions where a party proceeds without counsel are referred to a magistrate judge pursuant to E.D. Cal. L.R. 302(c)(21). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 72. 1 Dockets.Justia.com 1 Legal Standards 2 Pro se pleadings are to be liberally construed. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 & n.7 3 (9th Cir. 2010) (liberal construction appropriate even post–Iqbal). Prior to dismissal, the court is 4 to tell the plaintiff of deficiencies in the complaint and provide an opportunity to cure––if it 5 appears at all possible the defects can be corrected. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 6 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). However, if amendment would be futile, no leave to amend need be 7 given. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 339 (9th Cir. 1996). 8 i. 9 Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Frivolity The court must dismiss a case if, at any time, it determines that it lacks subject matter 10 jurisdiction. Rule 12(h)(3).2 A federal district court generally has original jurisdiction over a 11 civil action when: (1) a federal question is presented in an action “arising under the Constitution, 12 laws, or treaties of the United States” or (2) there is complete diversity of citizenship and the 13 amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a). Further, a plaintiff 14 must have standing to assert a claim, which requires an injury in fact caused by defendant(s) that 15 may be redressed in court. Harrison v. Kernan, 971 F.3d 1069, 1073 (9th Cir. 2020). Under the 16 well-pleaded complaint rule, “federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented 17 on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 18 386, 392 (1987). Federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to consider claims that are “so insubstantial, 19 20 implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit 21 as not to involve a federal controversy.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 22 83, 89 (1998); Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 537 (1974) (court lacks subject matter jurisdiction 23 over claims that are “essentially fictitious,” “obviously frivolous” or “obviously without merit”); 24 see also Grancare, LLC v. Thrower by & through Mills, 889 F.3d 543, 549-50 (9th Cir. 2018) 25 (noting that the “wholly insubstantial and frivolous” standard for dismissing claims operates 26 under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of federal question jurisdiction). A claim is legally frivolous when it 27 28 2 Citation to the “Rule(s)” are to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, unless otherwise noted. 2 1 lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). A 2 court may dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory 3 or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Id. at 327; Rule 12(h)(3). 4 5 ii. Federal Notice Pleading and a Complaint’s Failure to State a Claim Rule 8(a) requires that a pleading be “(1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the 6 court’s jurisdiction . . . ; (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is 7 entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the 8 alternative or different types of relief.” Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct. Rule 9 8(d)(1); see Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (overruled on other grounds) 10 (“Rule 8(a) is the starting point of a simplified pleading system, which was adopted to focus 11 litigation on the merits of a claim.”). 12 A claim may be dismissed because of the plaintiff’s “failure to state a claim upon which 13 relief can be granted.” Rule 12(b)(6). A complaint fails to state a claim if it either lacks a 14 cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to allege a cognizable legal theory. Mollett v. Netflix, 15 Inc., 795 F.3d 1062, 1065 (9th Cir. 2015). To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, a 16 complaint must contain more than “naked assertions,” “labels and conclusions,” or “a formulaic 17 recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 18 555-57 (2007). In other words, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, 19 supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 20 (2009). Thus, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a 21 claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff 22 pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is 23 liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. 24 When considering whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, 25 the court must accept the well-pleaded factual allegations as true, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 26 89, 94 (2007), and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Papasan 27 v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 283 (1986). The court is not, however, required to accept as true 28 “conclusory [factual] allegations that are contradicted by documents referred to in the complaint,” 3 1 or “legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations.” Paulsen v. 2 CNF Inc., 559 F.3d 1061, 1071 (9th Cir. 2009). 3 Analysis 4 Plaintiff brings this action against defendant Universal Music Group because a song 5 produced by defendant, “Playa Cardz Right,” uses plaintiff’s name. (See ECF No. 1 at 5.) 6 Plaintiff has included a portion of the lyric from the song “Playa Cardz Right,” but it is difficult to 7 decipher because the complaint is handwritten. (Id.) Plaintiff’s complaint vaguely references 8 state intellectual property and copyright laws. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff requests $50,000. (Id. at 6.) 9 “To establish a prima facie case of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must demonstrate 10 (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are 11 original.” Range Rd. Music, Inc. v. E. Coast Foods, Inc., 668 F.3d 1148, 1153 (9th Cir.2012). 12 Here, plaintiff includes no facts that would support an inference that he owns a valid copyright, as 13 an individual's name is not an “original work of authorship” subject to copyright. See 14 generally 17 U.S.C. § 102 (setting forth statutory criteria for subject matter that may be 15 copyrighted); see also 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(a) (listing examples of “works not subject to copyright” 16 as “words and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans”); Downing v. Abercrombie & 17 Fitch, 265 F.3d 994, 1004 (9th Cir. 2001) (“A person's name or likeness is not a work of 18 authorship within the meaning of 17 U.S.C. § 102.”); Peters v. West, 692 F.3d 629, 636 19 (7th Cir. 2012) (affirming dismissal of copyright infringement claim and stating that “the name 20 alone cannot constitute protectable expression”). Thus, to the extent plaintiff seeks to pursue a 21 copyright infringement claim against defendant, such a claim is without merit. 22 Accordingly, plaintiff’s complaint is legally frivolous and should be dismissed. Hagans v. 23 Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 537 (1974) (court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over claims that are 24 “obviously frivolous” or “obviously without merit”); see also Rule 12(h)(3). Because the 25 complaint contains no other facts suggesting that plaintiff could state a viable claim for relief, the 26 undersigned concludes that further amendment would be futile and should not be granted. 27 See Hartmann v. CDCR, 707 F.3d 1114, 1130 (9th Cir. 2013) (leave to amend may be denied 28 when amendment would be futile). 4 1 FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 2 It is hereby RECOMMENDED that: 3 1. The action be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; 4 2. Plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2) be DENIED AS MOOT; 5 and 6 3. The Clerk of Court be directed to CLOSE this case. 7 These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge 8 assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within fourteen (14) 9 days after being served with these findings and recommendations, plaintiff may file written 10 objections with the court. Such a document should be captioned “Objections to Magistrate 11 Judge’s Findings and Recommendations.” Plaintiff is advised that failure to file objections 12 within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court’s order. Turner v. 13 Duncan, 158 F.3d 449, 455 (9th Cir. 1998); Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153, 1156-57 (9th Cir. 14 1991). Dated: February 5, 2024 15 16 17 doug.2567 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 5

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