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Art of Design, Inc. v. Pontoon Boat, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

August 22, 2017

THE ART OF DESIGN, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
PONTOON BOAT, LLC, d/b/a Bennington and Bennington Marine; and HAWKEYE BOAT SALES, INC., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         Plaintiff, The Art of Design, Inc. (“Plaintiff”), alleges that it applied its Shatter Graphics designs to a limited number of pontoon boats for Pontoon Boat LLC, d/b/a Bennington and Bennington Marine (“Bennington”) in exchange for payment. Continuing thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that Bennington incorporated the Shatter Graphics designs, or substantially similar designs, on its products without Plaintiff's authorization. Plaintiff also alleges that Bennington passed along the Shatter Graphics designs to Hawkeye Boat Sales, Inc. (“Hawkeye”), and that Hawkeye likewise began selling products incorporating the Shatter Graphics designs or substantially similar designs.

         Bennington and Hawkeye (collectively, “Defendants”) have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. [DE 13] Apart from arguing a lack of sufficiently pled allegations, Defendants raise the issue of preemption regarding the state law claims. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendants' motion.

         FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiff designs custom artwork that can be applied to a variety of “canvases, ” such as boats, motorcoaches, airplanes, helicopters, and recreational vehicles. [DE 1 ¶¶ 7-8] Plaintiff alleges that it is the sole author, creator, and owner of certain designs called “Shatter Graphics.” Id. ¶ 12. The two Shatter Graphics designs at issue here are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office under registration numbers VA 1-979-388 (the “‘388 design”) and 1-982-002 (the “‘002 design”). Id. ¶ 13. But while as of October 28, 2016, the ‘388 design appears to be authored by and registered to Plaintiff [DE 14-1], the ‘002 design is authored by and registered to an individual named Dean Loucks. Id.[1] Dean Loucks is not a party to this action.[2]

         Defendants sell products in the marine industry, including pontoon boats. [DE 1 ¶ 14] In or around 2011, Bennington reached out to Plaintiff and requested that Plaintiff propose a design for application to a limited number of Bennington's pontoon boats. Id. ¶ 17. Each of the designs presented to Bennington contained the following notice:

TAOD DESIGNS ARE THE PROPERTY OF TAOD. THEY ARE NOT TO BE REPRODUCED, COPIED OR FORWARDED TO ANYONE WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.

Id. ¶ 18. After reviewing the proposed schemes, Bennington selected the Shatter Graphics designs, and the two parties entered into an agreement whereby Plaintiff would apply the designs to the exterior of a limited number of pontoon boats in exchange for payment. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Pursuant to the agreement, Plaintiff painted a limited number of Bennington's boats, and the corresponding invoice indicates that Bennington tendered payment for these services. [DE 1 ¶ 20; DE 1-1]

         Sometime after this transaction was completed, Plaintiff alleges that Bennington continued to market, sell, and distribute products displaying the Shatter Graphics design, or substantially similar designs, without Plaintiff's authorization. [DE 1 ¶ 21] According to Plaintiff, these products can be found on Bennington's website: www.benningtonmarine.com. Id. ¶ 24. Plaintiff also alleges that Bennington passed along the Shatter Graphics designs, or substantially similar designs, to another marine products retailer, Hawkeye, without Plaintiff's authorization. Id. ¶ 22. Hawkeye then likewise allegedly marketed, sold, and distributed products displaying these designs without Plaintiff's consent, and these designs can apparently be found on Hawkeye's website: www.hawkeyeboatsales.com. Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.

         It is against the backdrop of these facts and allegations that the Court conducts its analysis.

         STANDARD

         In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepts the factual allegations as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). A complaint must contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That statement must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). However, a plaintiff's claim need only be plausible, not probable. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012). Evaluating whether a plaintiff's claim is sufficiently plausible to survive a motion to dismiss is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asserts six total claims in its Complaint: breach of contract against Bennington (I), unjust enrichment against both Defendants (II), and unfair competition against both Defendants (IV) under Indiana state law; copyright infringement against both Defendants (III) and inducement of copyright infringement against Bennington (V) under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 106, 106A, 501; and violation of the Digital Millennium ...


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