beneficiary. On November 30, 1998, defendants moved for
dismissal, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), F.R. Civ. P., contending,
inter alia, that the statute of limitations has expired on
plaintiff's claim of co-authorship under the Copyright Act.
I. Standard for Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal
Dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted is warranted when "`it appears beyond
doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of
his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Cooper v.
Parsky, 140 F.3d 433, 440 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).
The court's task in determining a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is "merely
to assess the legal feasibility of the complaint, not to assay
the weight of the evidence which might be offered in support
thereof." See id. (citation and quotation marks omitted).
II. Co-authorship claim under the Copyright Act
Claims of co-authorship arise directly from the Copyright Act
(the "Act"), 17 U.S.C. § 201(a), and are governed by the Act's
statute of limitations clause, 17 U.S.C. § 507(b). Under
17 U.S.C. § 507(b), a claim arising from the Act must be filed
within three years from the date that the claim accrues. A claim
accrues "when a plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the
injury upon which the claim is premised." Stone v. Williams,
970 F.2d 1043, 1048 (2d Cir. 1992). A plaintiff who fails to
initiate a suit within the three-year limitations period is
time-barred from seeking a declaration of copyright co-authorship
rights and any remedies that would flow from such a declaration.
See Merchant v. Levy, 92 F.3d 51, 56-57 (2d Cir. 1996) (stating
that this conclusion "promotes the principles of repose integral
to a properly functioning copyright market.").
Defendants contend that Dewan is time-barred from seeking
co-authorship rights. In response, Dewan asserts that defendants
are equitably estopped from relying on the statute of limitations
as a defense. Equitable estoppel tolls a statute of limitations
where the plaintiff knew of the existence of his cause of action,
but the defendant's misconduct caused him to delay in bringing
the suit. See Buttry v. General Signal Corp., 68 F.3d 1488,
1493 (2d Cir. 1995); Netzer v. Continuity Graphic Associates,
963 F. Supp. 1308, 1316 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (Sweet, J.). Equitable
estoppel is applicable in situations where the defendant "in some
way lulled the plaintiff into believing that it was not necessary
for him to commence litigation." Cerbone v. International
Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, 768 F.2d 45, 50 (2d Cir. 1985).
Thus, for example, "where the defendant assures the plaintiff
that he intends to settle and the plaintiff, in reasonable
reliance on that assurance, delays in bringing his suit until
after the statute has run, the defendant may be estopped to rely
on the limitations defense." Id.
From the facts alleged in the complaint, it is clear that Dewan
was aware as early as the fall of 1991 of the facts and
circumstances giving rise to a cause of action for co-authorship
rights, as evidenced by his numerous attempts to execute a formal
agreement. However, it also appears that defendants lulled Dewan
into believing that no suit was necessary by stating, verbally
and in writing, that Dewan was a co-author in the compositions,
and by engaging in negotiations over an agreement during 1991 to
The court finds, though, that after the October, 1993 offer by
Goldman to purchase Dewan's rights, there were no actions taken
by defendants that Dewan could have reasonably relied upon, at
the time, as indications that defendants desired a settlement.
While Dewan points out that the 1994 and 1995 agreements
acknowledged his co-authorship status, he has not pleaded that he
had contemporaneous knowledge of the agreements. In addition,
even assuming that the limitations
period could be tolled during the lapse in contact between the
sides from October, 1993 to May 6, 1996, the 1996 letter from
defendants only served to place Dewan on notice once again that a
suit was necessary to protect his rights. Although the cover
letter stated that plaintiff was a co-composer, the enclosed
agreement plainly indicated that defendants had no intention of
entering into an agreement with Dewan.
Assuming the truth of the facts in the complaint, defendants'
actions have been less than commendable. However, Dewan's
reliance on defendants' previous assurances of his co-authorship
status was unreasonable after late 1993 or 1994, given
defendants' failure to respond to Dewan's proposed agreements,
and Dewan's own awareness that he was not receiving any royalties
from the performances of his compositions. By the end of 1994 at
the latest, Dewan had ample reason to know a lawsuit was
necessary. Faced with this knowledge, Dewan then had three full
years to initiate his suit, either with the assistance of counsel
or pro se. In light of Dewan's passive and unreasonable reliance
on defendants' assurances, the court finds that plaintiff's claim
accrued well before October, 1995. See also Netzer, 963 F. Supp.
at 1316 (equitable estoppel not applicable where plaintiff
unreasonably relies on the reassurances of a wrongdoer); Margo
v. Weiss, 1998 WL 2558, *6 (S.D.N.Y. Jan.5, 1998) (Mukasey, J.)
(same). The statute of limitations on Dewan's claim of
co-authorship under the Copyright Act has therefore expired.
III. State law claims
As all parties in this case are either residents of New York,
or businesses organized under the laws of New York, and as the
court has dismissed plaintiff's sole federal claim, there remains
no independent basis for federal jurisdiction. See, e.g.,
Castellano v. Board of Trustees, 937 F.2d 752, 758 (2d Cir.),
cert. denied, 502 U.S. 941, 112 S.Ct. 378, 116 L.Ed.2d 329
(1991). Accordingly, plaintiff's state claims are hereby
dismissed. See United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726,
86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966) ("Certainly, if the federal
claims are dismissed before trial, even though not insubstantial
in a jurisdictional sense, the state claims should be dismissed
as well."); Salim v. Proulx, 93 F.3d 86, 92 (2d Cir. 1996)
(directing dismissal of state claims on remand) (citing Gibbs).
See also 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).
For the reasons stated above, plaintiff's claim for a
declaration of co-authorship under the Copyright Act is
dismissed, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), F.R.Civ.P. The remaining
claims are also dismissed, as the court declines to exercise
jurisdiction over plaintiff's state claims, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3).
IT IS SO ORDERED.