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J & J Sports Productions, Inc. v. Navarro

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

January 24, 2017

J & J SPORTS PRODUCTIONS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
LEONOR NAVARRO, individually and d/b/a LA SANTA ANITA FAMILY GRILL; SERGIO NAVARRO, individually and d/b/a LA SANTA ANITA FAMILY GRILL; and NAVARRO FAMILY RESTAURANT LLC, an unknown business entity d/b/a LA SANTA ANITA FAMILY GRILL, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM C. LEE, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff J & J Sports Productions, Inc., on November 21, 2016 (docket entry 17). Defendants Leonor and Sergio Navarro, d/b/a La Santa Anita Family Grill, filed a response in opposition to the motion on December 13 (DE 19)[1] and J & J Sports filed a reply brief on December 16 (DE 21). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and against the Defendants in the amount of $4, 725.75, consisting of statutory damages of $3, 200.00 and attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $1, 525.75. The motion is DENIED as to the Plaintiff's claim for enhanced damages, conversion, and punitive damages, and those claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND

         J & J Sports is a California corporation that owns the licensing rights to satellite and cable broadcasts of sporting events, including professional boxing matches. J & J Sports contracts with entities across the country (including restaurants and sports bars and the like) to permit those entities to broadcast the fight in their establishments. The establishment then receives the broadcast signal and permission to exhibit the broadcast to its patrons. It is common knowledge that individuals and businesses often intercept satellite and cable signals in order to view a broadcast without paying for it.[2] J & J Sports alleges that the Defendants did just that on September 14, 2013, by intercepting its signal and broadcasting a televised light middleweight championship match between Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Saul Alvarez in their establishment known as La Santa Anita Family Grill. Complaint, p. 4.[3] J & J Sports alleges that “on September 14, 2013 (the night of the Program at issue herein . . .), Defendants Leonor Navarro and Sergio Navarro specifically directed the employees of La Santa Anita Family Grill to unlawfully intercept and broadcast Plaintiff's Program at La Santa Anita . . . or that the actions of the employees . . . are directly imputable to Defendants Leonor Navarro and Sergio Navarro by virtue of their acknowledged responsibility for the actions of La Santa Anita[.]” Id., p. 3. J & J Sports contends that “[w]ithout the authorization of Plaintiff, Defendant[s] unlawfully intercepted and exhibited and divulged the Program at Defendants' commercial establishment La Santa Anita Family Grill[.]” Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (DE 18), p. 1.

         At first glance, it might seem odd that a one-time “pirating” of a televised boxing match by a small bar or restaurant would be the subject of a federal lawsuit, let alone a lawsuit in which the Plaintiff seeks more than $110, 000 in damages from that small establishment. The problem for the Defendants is that pirating a broadcast signal violates 47 U.S.C. §§ 553 and 605 of the Federal Communications Act, commonly referred to as the “piracy statutes.” Complaint, pp. 4-6. According to J & J Sports, this illegal pirating of broadcasts has a direct and substantial impact on the company's bottom line. See Gagliardi Affidavit, p. 5, ¶ 12 (“We at J & J Sports . . . believe that the persistent signal piracy of our programming costs our company, our customers, and their communities, millions of dollars annually . . . for such unlawful interception and exhibition by the commercial signal pirates.”). Therefore, J & J Sports employs “auditors” who are paid to go to various establishments suspected of pirating broadcast signals to see first-hand what is going on (“piracy spies, ” of a sort). In this case, James A. Berndt served in this capacity and went to La Santa Anita on the night of the fight, observed part of the pirated broadcast, and reported his findings to J & J Sports. Plaintiff's Memorandum, Affidavit of James A. Berndt (DE 21-2). Berndt reported that “on Saturday, September 14, 2013, at approximately 10:30 p.m. . . . I . . . entered [La Santa Anita and] observed approximately 6-8 tables filled about half capacity with a crowd of primarily Hispanic patrons. . . . I observed one (1) television on the north wall of the restaurant: an approximately 40" (LG brand) flat-screen. The television was displaying” the boxing match licensed to J & J Sports. Id., p. 1. Berndt reported that “[t]he [seating] capacity of this establishment is approximately 30 people. During my time in this location, I estimated the number of patrons as between 12 and 15[.]” Id., p. 2. Based on these facts, J & J Sports filed this suit against the Defendants seeking damages for the illegal pirating of J & J Sports' broadcast signal.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows that there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Disputes concerning material facts are genuine where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In deciding whether genuine issues of material fact exist, the court construes all facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Id. at 255. However, neither the “mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties, ” id., 477 U.S. at 247, nor the existence of “some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986), will defeat a motion for summary judgment. Michas v. Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc., 209 F.3d 687, 692 (7th Cir. 2000).

         Summary judgment is not a substitute for a trial on the merits nor is it a vehicle for resolving factual disputes. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Therefore, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of the non-movant, if genuine doubts remain and a reasonable fact-finder could find for the party opposing the motion, summary judgment is inappropriate. See Shields Enterprises, Inc. v. First Chicago Corp., 975 F.2d 1290, 1294 (7th Cir. 1992); Wolf v. City of Fitchburg, 870 F.2d 1327, 1330 (7th Cir. 1989). If it is clear that a plaintiff will be unable to satisfy the legal requirements necessary to establish his or her case, summary judgment is not only appropriate, but mandated. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322; Ziliak v. AstraZeneca LP, 324 F.3d 518, 520 (7th Cir. 2003).

         DISCUSSION

         This is the latest in a series of cases filed in this District over the past several years by J & J Sports in which the company seeks to recover damages (usually tens of thousands and often more than $100, 000 per case) from defendants who intercept satellite or cable signals to broadcasts to which J & J Sports owns the licensing rights. Most of these cases involve the interception of a signal to a professional “pay-per-view” boxing match, as was the case here. In many instances, the defendants are very small “mom and pop” bars and restaurants[4] who never answer or otherwise respond, so J & J Sports takes a default and then files a motion for damages, fees and costs. In this case, however, the Defendants answered the complaint and responded to the motion for summary judgment. In their response, the Defendants (somewhat reluctantly) concede liability and so the primary issue before the Court is the amount of damages to award to J & J Sports.[5]

         J & J Sports is correct that it is entitled to damages, attorney fees, and costs as a result of the Defendants' conduct, and the company is not shy about asking for all damages to which it is arguably entitled. In this case, J & J Sports seeks “statutory damages for each willful violation in an amount to $100, 000.00 pursuant to . . . [§] 605(e)(3)(C)(ii), ” “statutory damages for each violation in an amount to $10, 000.00 pursuant to . . . [§] 553(c)(3)(A)(ii)[, ]” “statutory damages for each willful violation in an amount to $50, 000.00 pursuant to . . . [§] 553(c)(3)(B)[, ]” exemplary damages, punitive damages, costs, and attorney fees. Complaint, pp. 5-8. In other words, J & J Sports' Complaint seeks an award of damages of over $160, 000.00.[6]

         In their response, the Defendants concede liability but still oppose J &J Sports' motion “on the grounds that there is an issue of genuine dispute and the Plaintiff is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to the amount of damages sought.” Defendants' “Motion” in Opposition (DE 19), p. 1 (italics added). The Defendants state that they “have admitted that they intercepted, exhibited and showed the [Mayweather/Alvarez broadcast] to the restaurant patrons.” Defendants' Brief, p. 5. They maintain, however, that they “were not aware that it was unlawful or a violation.” Id. (citing affidavits of Leonor Navarro (DE 20-1) and Sergio Navarro (DE 20-2)). This is important because it is relevant to an assessment of damages, but more on that point later.

         The Defendants have little choice but to concede liability since §§ 553 and 605 are “strict liability” statutes. As J & J Sports points out, “[b]ecause this is a strict liability statute, it is not necessary for Plaintiff to establish willfulness . . . in order to establish liability.” Plaintiff's Memorandum, p. 6 (citing 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(3)(C)(iii) and 47 U.S.C. § 553(c)(3)(C)). The company adds that “even if Defendant[s] w[ere] unaware of [their] violation, or if [they] did not intend to broadcast Plaintiff's Program unlawfully, Defendant[s] would still be liable.” Id. (citing J & J Sports Productions, Inc. v. Mendoza-Gowan, 2011 WL 1544886 at *6 (N.D. Cal. April 25, 2011)).

         The relevant portion of § 605 states as follows:

(C)(i) Damages awarded by any court under this section shall be computed, at the election of the aggrieved party, in accordance with either of the following subclauses;
(I) the party aggrieved may recover the actual damages suffered by him as a result of the violation and any profits of the violator that are attributable to the violation which are not taken into account in computing the actual damages; . . . or
(II) the party aggrieved may recover an award of statutory damages for each violation of subsection (a) of this section involved in the action in a sum of not less than $1, 000 or more than $10, 000, as the court considers just. . . .
(ii) In any case in which the court finds that the violation was committed willfully and for purposes of direct or indirect commercial advantage or private financial gain, the court in its discretion may increase the award of damages, whether actual or statutory, by an amount of not more than $100, 000 for each violation of subsection (a) of this section.
(iii) In any case where the court finds that the violator was not aware and had no reason to believe that his acts constituted a violation of this section, the court in its discretion may reduce the award of damages to a sum of not less than $250.

47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(C)(i)-(iii). The relevant portion of § 553 states as follows:

(3)(A) Damages awarded by any court under this section shall be computed in accordance with either of the following clauses:
(i) the party aggrieved may recover the actual damages suffered by him as a result of the violation and any profits of the violator that are attributable to the violation which are not taken into account in computing the actual damages; . . . or
(ii) the party aggrieved may recover an award of statutory damages for all violations involved in the action, in a sum of not less than $250 or more than $10, 000 as the court considers just.
(B) In any case in which the court finds that the violation was committed willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain, the court in its discretion may increase the award of damages, whether actual or statutory ...

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