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Culp v. NFL Productions LLC

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 29, 2014

CURLEY CULP, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NFL PRODUCTIONS LLC, a/b/a NFL FILMS, et al., Defendants.

WILLIAM J. PINILIS, PINILIS HALPERN, MORRISTOWN, NJ, Attorney for plaintiffs Curley Culp, John Riggins, Ron Yary, Dave Casper, Thomas Mack, Phil Villapiano, Roman Gabriel, Jr., Willie Buchanon, Joe Kapp, and Mike Bass.

STEPHEN M. ORLOFSKY, JONATHAN M. KORN, BLANK, ROME, LLP, PRINCETON, NJ, Attorneys for defendants NFL Productions LLC d/b/a NFL Films and the National Football League.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiffs are retired National Football League players who filed a class action complaint in this Court alleging that they, and others similarly situated, should be compensated each time the defendants show their images in NFL films. Defendants have moved to have this case transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. For the reasons explained below, defendants' motion will be granted.

I. JURISDICTION[1]

The Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question), as plaintiffs have raised claims pursuant to the federal Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125.[2]

II. BACKGROUND

According to the allegations in plaintiffs' complaint, plaintiffs are all former National Football League ("NFL") players. Defendant NFL Productions LLC d/b/a NFL Films ("NFL Films") is a Delaware limited liability company with its principal place of business located in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. Defendant NFL is a tax-exempt association under 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(6)[3] with its headquarters located in New York, New York.

The plaintiffs in this case opted-out of a settlement reached in the class action case of Dryer v. Nat'l Football League, No. 09-cv-02182-PAM-AJB (D. Minn. filed Aug. 20, 2009). The Dryer case involved the same issue presented here: whether retired NFL players should be compensated each time the NFL uses or displays films that contain the plaintiffs' images. Plaintiffs in this matter filed a separate complaint asserting class action allegations and state that they are suing on behalf of two classes of persons, namely (1) the "declaratory and injunctive relief class" defined as all former NFL professional football players, or their heirs or assigns, that have opted-out of the class action settlement in Dryer; and (2) the "damages class" defined as all former NFL professional football players, or their heirs or assigns, that have opted-out of the class action settlement in Dryer, and whose images or likenesses have been utilized, following the conclusion of their NFL careers, in any NFL Films footage displayed, sold, and/or licensed by Defendants or their affiliated entities from August 20, 2003 through the time of a final judgment in this litigation." Plaintiffs assert claims for false endorsement under the Lanham Act, for violation of rights of publicity under several state laws, and unjust enrichment.[4]

In addition to this case, there are three other pending opt-out cases that raise similar claims. One of those cases, the Dryer opt-out case, was filed in Minnesota and is pending before Judge Paul A. Magnuson of for the District of Minnesota who presided over the original Dryer case. The two other opt-out cases were filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania and motions to transfer venue to the District of Minnesota were granted in both cases. See Tatum v. National Football League, No. 2:13-cv-1814, 2014 WL 1652794, at *1 (W.D.Pa. Apr. 24, 2014); Thompson v. National Football League, No. 1:13-cv-367, 2014 WL 1646929, at *1 (W.D.Pa. Apr. 24, 2014).

Defendants now seek to transfer this case to Minnesota as well.

III. ANALYSIS

The statute governing transfers of venue, 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), provides: "For the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought." Section 1391(b) provides guidelines as to when venue is proper, which is "(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which the district is located; (2) a judicial district in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim occurred, or a substantial part of property that is the subject of the action is situated; or (3) if there is no district in which an action may otherwise be brought as provided in this section, any judicial district in which any defendant is subject to the court's personal jurisdiction with respect to such action." 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a). If venue is appropriate, then the Court has discretion as to whether to transfer an action based on a balancing of certain private and public factors. See Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co. , 55 F.3d 873, 879 (3d Cir. 1995).

The private factors are: "(1) plaintiff's forum preference as manifested in the original choice; (2) the defendant's preference; (3) whether the claim arose elsewhere; (4) the convenience of the parties as indicated by their relative physical and financial condition; (5) the convenience of the witnesses - but only to the extent that the witnesses may actually be unavailable for trial in one of the fora; and (6) the location of books and records (similarly limited to the extent that the files could not be produced in the alternative forum)." Id . (citations omitted).

The public factors are: "(1) the enforceability of the judgment; (2) practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious, or inexpensive; (3) the relative administrative difficulty in the two fora resulting from court congestion; (4) the local interest in deciding local controversies at home; (5) the public policies of the fora; and (6) the familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable state law in diversity cases." Id., at 879-80 (citations omitted).

It is the movant's burden to show a need for transfer. Id.

A. Venue

The parties do not dispute that this case could have been brought in the District of Minnesota. There is no dispute that defendants regularly transact business in Minnesota, at least one named plaintiff resides in Minnesota, certain putative class action members likely reside or played in NFL games there, and at least a portion of the claims in this case arise from NFL footage shown or produced in Minnesota.

Therefore, it must be determined whether transfer would serve "the convenience of parties and witnesses" and "the interest of justice." See 28 U.S.C. 1404(a). To make this determination, the Court considers any related ongoing ...


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