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Malibu Media, LLC. v. Doe

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 4, 2018

MALIBU MEDIA, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DOE, Subscriber IP Address, TIM MCMANUS, Defendant.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Malibu Media, LLC brings this action against Defendant Tim McManus, alleging copyright infringement pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 106. This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's motion to dismiss Defendant's counterclaims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff is a limited liability company incorporated in California, with its principal place of business in Beverly Hills, California. Am. Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 10. Plaintiff produces pornographic films that it offers over the internet via paid subscription. Malibu Media, LLC v. Ricupero, 705 Fed.Appx. 402, 403 (6th Cir. 2017); see also Pl.'s Mot. to Dismiss Def.'s Counterclaims (“Pl.'s Mot.”) 5-6, ECF No. 22-1 (admitting that plaintiff in Ricupero and Plaintiff in the instant case are one and the same). Defendant is an individual residing at 100 Greenwood Avenue in Haskell, New Jersey. Am. Compl. ¶ 9.

         Plaintiff alleges one count of direct copyright infringement against Defendant, claiming that he illegally downloaded 14 of Plaintiff's films using the peer-to-peer file sharing system BitTorrent. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 10-25. Plaintiff submits that it employed investigators who connected with Defendant's Internet Protocol (“IP”) address and downloaded one or more digital files related to each of the 14 films from the BitTorrent network. See id. ¶¶ 17-22. The Court granted Plaintiff leave to serve a third-party subpoena on the internet service provider, who subsequently identified a company, Greenwood Digital, LLC, as the subscriber of the IP address. See Am. Compl. ¶ 26; Cert. of T. McManus ¶¶ 3-5, ECF No. 18-2. Upon further investigation, Plaintiff's investigators identified Defendant as a resident of the same location as Greenwood Digital. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 29-30. Plaintiff avers that a subscriber to an infringing IP address is ordinarily the infringer; however, sometimes the infringer is another person authorized to use the subscriber's internet connection. See id. ¶ 27. Plaintiff, therefore, named Defendant in its Amended Complaint (the “Complaint”) but omitted the actual subscriber, Greenwood Digital. See id. ¶¶ 32-33.

         Defendant answered the Complaint, admitting that he resides at the identified location but otherwise denying all allegations of copyright infringement. See Answer ¶¶ 9-10, 36; see also Def.'s Br. in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. (“Def.'s Opp'n”) 2, ECF No. 25-1. In addition to his affirmative defenses, Defendant also raises two counterclaims. The first seeks a declaratory judgment affirmatively holding that he did not infringe Plaintiff's copyright. The second alleges abuse of process against Plaintiff. See id. at 11-14.

         Plaintiff now moves to dismiss Defendant's two counterclaims, arguing first that the Court's issuance of a declaratory judgment would be redundant to a determination on the merits of Plaintiff's infringement claim. See Pl.'s Mot. at 7-10. Second, Plaintiff argues that Defendant's abuse of process counterclaim is conclusory and wholly unsupported by the alleged facts. See id. at 10-14.

         Defendant opposes, arguing first that his claim for declaratory relief is necessary to ensure a determination on the merits, which will guard against Plaintiff from voluntarily dismissing without prejudice the instant case when it realizes that it cannot prove Defendant infringed. See Pl.'s Opp'n at 6-8. Defendant next argues that it has properly alleged an abuse of process claim against Plaintiff. Defendant alleges that Plaintiff has historically engaged in abusive litigation strategies with the goal of shaming previous defendants into coercive settlement agreements. See id. at 10-16. Defendant contends that the only reason Plaintiff filed suit against him instead of the subscriber, Greenwood Digital, is because he is a male and more vulnerable to Plaintiff's abusive tactics in coercing a settlement. See id. at 14-15.

         In its reply, Plaintiff responds that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41 protects Defendant from Plaintiff's voluntary dismissal because Defendant has already answered the Complaint. See Pl.'s Reply in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss Counterclaims (“Pl.'s Reply”) 9-14, ECF No. 28. Plaintiff further responds that “a corporate entity itself does not commit copyright infringement, ” which is the reason why it named Defendant in its Complaint and not Greenwood Digital. See id. at 15-16. Plaintiff maintains that Defendant can provide no evidence of abuse of process and that it has litigated in good faith. See id.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).

         Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, “a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is “plausible on its face.” See Id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). A claim has “facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility.” Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Court first addresses Defendant's counterclaim for a declaratory judgment before turning to his abuse of process counterclaim. Ultimately, the Court finds that a declaratory judgment would be redundant to a determination on the merits of Plaintiff's infringement claim but also ...


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