Copyright Infringement Case Implodes Due To Rule 37(c) Violations


BWP MEDIA USA INC. v. RICH KIDS CLOTHING COMPANY, LLC, Dist. Court, WD Washington 2015 – Google Scholar.

This is a fairly routine case in which BWP sued Rich Kids alleging that Rich Kids infringed its copyrights on three photographs. To support its claim of copyright infringement, BWP produced three screen shots of Rich Kids’ website allegedly showing that BWP’s photographs were copied without permission.

Rich Kids responded to the motion for summary judgment by arguing that the screen-grab exhibit should be stricken because it was not produced during discovery. Rich Kids also filed its own summary judgment motion in which it argued that BWP failed to produce admissible evidence upon which a reasonable jury could find copyright infringement.

The district court granted Rich Kids’ motion for summary judgment based on its finding that BWP violated Rule 37. That finding was, in turn, based on a finding that BWP had failed to comply with the Rule 26(a)(1)(A) automatic disclosure requirements. The Court explained:

“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(1)(A) requires a party to make certain initial disclosures to other parties “without awaiting a discovery request[.]” Those disclosures include “a copy — or a description by category and location — of all documents, electronically stored information, and tangible things that the disclosing party has in its possession, custody, or control and may use to support its claims[.]” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1)(A)(ii). Parties are further required, under Rule 26(e), to supplement or correct initial disclosures on an ongoing basis.

In this case, BWP indicated in its initial disclosures its “possession of materials relevant to Defendant’s commission of copyright infringement on its website, including digital files of screen shots of the website depicting Defendant’s commission of copyright infringement.” (Dkt. 28-1 at 3.) No materials were included in the disclosures. RKCC submits evidence showing it sought production of the materials identified in plaintiff’s initial disclosures, and that BWP failed to comply with that request. Specifically, in an email dated October 30, 2014, the deadline for filing discovery-related motions and some two weeks prior to the close of discovery, counsel for RKCC reminded counsel for BWP that he had “never received any documents at all from BWP[,]” other than the exhibit attached to the complaint, described above. (Dkt. 24-1 at 2.) Defendant’s counsel indicated he was considering filing a motion to compel, which would be withdrawn when documents were produced. (Id.) In an email later that same day, RKCC’s counsel reiterated:

As to the documents, I’m referring to any documents envisioned by the initial disclosure rules “all documents, electronically stored information, and tangible things that the disclosing party has in its possession, custody, or control and may use [sic] to support its claims or defenses, unless the use would be solely for impeachment[.]”

(Dkt. 24-1 at 3.) He added: “Of course, if BWP doesn’t plan to rely on any documents other than the pleadings to support its claims, that’s fine. I guess I would just ask for confirmation.” (Id.) Counsel for RKCC attests that counsel forBWP provided the requested confirmation by telephone that BWP would not rely on any documents other than those included in the pleadings. (Dkt. 24, ¶4.)

…..

In sum, the Court concludes that, pursuant to Rule 37(c), BWP is foreclosed from relying on the evidence attached to its motion for summary judgment and is restricted to relying on the evidence attached to its complaint and/or otherwise properly produced during the course of discovery. Within that framework, the Court proceeds to the pending motions for summary judgment.”

The court held that BWP violated Rule 26 by failing to disclose the screen-grab exhibit and held that, pursuant to Rule 37(c), BWP had no admissible evidence to support its claims of copyright infringement.

Separately, the Court denied Rich Kids’ motion for Rule 11 sanctions because Rich Kids did not comply with the safe harbor (providing the other party 21 days in which to withdraw the claims) and did not file the sanctions motion as a separate motion.

In sum, an excellent opinion on these issues.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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