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Bell v. Merchants Bank of Indiana

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

May 18, 2018

RICHARD N. BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
MERCHANTS BANK OF INDIANA, SONAR STUDIOS INCORPORATED, Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO STAY

          DORIS L. PRYOR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Merchants Bank of Indiana's Motion to Stay Litigation Pending the Judgment in Bell v. Maloney (Dkt. 31). The motion has been referred to the undersigned for ruling.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff has brought this suit against Defendants for allegedly infringing his copyright to a nighttime picture of the Indianapolis skyline (“Indianapolis Nighttime Photo”). In 2017, Plaintiff discovered that Merchants Bank, with the help of Sonar Studios, Inc., uploaded and were using the Indianapolis Nighttime Photo on their website.

         In Bell v. Maloney 1:16-cv-01193-RLY-DLP, Plaintiff has brought a similar copyright infringement lawsuit against another entity for allegedly uploading a daytime photo of the Indianapolis skyline (“Indianapolis Daytime Photo”) taken by Bell. That case is currently before this Court, and is set to go to trial on July 24, 2018. (Bell v. Maloney 1:16-cv-01193-RLY-DLP Dkt. 79).

         In both Maloney and the present case the work-made-for-hire defense has been raised as an affirmative defense.

         II. Discussion

         Whether to grant a motion to stay litigation while another suit proceeds is a discretionary judgment call made by the Court. See IDS Life Ins. Co. v. SunAmerica, Inc., 103 F.3d 524, 530 (7th Cir. 1996). The parties and issues in concurrent litigation do not have to be identical for the Court to grant a motion to stay. Landis v. North American Co. 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936). The Court uses the following three-factor test to determine if a stay of litigation is warranted: “[1] the prejudice or tactical disadvantage to the non-moving party; [2] whether or not the issues will be simplified by the decision in the other case; and [3] whether or not a stay will reduce the burden of litigation on a party. Johnson v. Navient Solutions, Inc., 150 F.Supp.3d 1005, 1007 (S.D. Ind. 2015).

         A. Prejudice to the Non-Moving Party

         Time is often the most important issue when determining if a party will be unduly prejudiced by a stay. First, the length of the stay should be reasonable. For example, a stay of litigation until all appeals had been exhausted was held to be an abuse of discretion and prejudicial to the non-movant. See Landis, 299 U.S. at 256. Second, time-sensitive issues that may affect the ability of the parties to litigate their case, such as the availability of witnesses or evidence, should also be considered by the Court.

         Here, Defendant is asking to stay litigation until judgment is entered in the Maloney bench trial scheduled to begin on July 24, 2018. With this being a few weeks, this is a reasonable length of time, and will not unduly prejudice the Plaintiff. This short stay will not affect the abilities of the parties to litigate their case. Further, the Plaintiff here is also the plaintiff in Maloney, thus, he does not have to stand idly by while someone else determines the issues that may affect his case here and is in a position to preserve any information that may be lost due to the passage of time. Moreover, the Plaintiff fails to present any argument or allegation about how he will be specifically prejudiced by a stay in this case. Therefore, factor one weighs in the favor of Defendant and granting the motion to stay.

         B. Simplification of the Issues

         Defendant argues that judgment in Maloney will simplify the issues in this case because, not only will the copyright ownership of the Indianapolis Daytime Photo be determined, but the work-made-for-hire defense will be simplified. The issue here, and in Maloney is whether the photos were taken within the scope of the Plaintiff Bell's employment, giving his employer ownership of the pictures at issue.

         The work-made-for-hire defense comes from the 1976 Copyright Act that states if the work is made for hire, “the employer or other person for whom the work was prepared is considered the author” and owns the copyright. Cmty. for Creative ...


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