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Clauson v. Eslinger

October 3, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sprizzo, D.J.


Plaintiff, Sean Clauson ("plaintiff"), brings the above-captioned action against defendant, Ryan Eslinger ("defendant"), seeking injunctive relief and damages, pursuant to both the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), and New York state law. Plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction requiring defendant to credit plaintiff as producer of the film "Madness and Genius" ("the film") and to take various steps to change the perception that defendant was producer. The Court conducted evidentiary hearings on January 14 and February 11, 2004 to develop a more complete factual record and evaluate the parties' credibility, and it heard oral argument on April 7, 2004. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies plaintiff's application. In addition, defendant brings a motion to dismiss plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies defendant's motion.*fn1


The following facts, except where so indicated, are taken from the evidentiary hearings conducted by this Court on January 14 and February 11, 2004.*fn2

"Madness and Genius," written by defendant when he was thirteen years old, centers on four characters who are academically brilliant but lead emotionally barren lives. Pl.'s Ex. 10 at 2-3. Defendant began pre-production for the film in 2001, using $20,000 that he had saved over the course of several years. Declaration of Ryan Eslinger, Nov. 19, 2003 ("Eslinger Decl.") 3. Star actor Tom Noonan has a lead role in the film, and critics have given the film positive reviews. See Pl.'s Ex. 10 at 2-3, 11-14.

Plaintiff's involvement with the film grew out of a chance meeting with defendant at an NYU gym, at which defendant asked plaintiff if he wanted to help out with the film. Hr'g Tr., dated Jan. 14, 2004 ("Jan. Tr.") at 64, 117. According to plaintiff, he subsequently called defendant and told him he wanted to "produce this film," as defendant had commented that he had dismissed two producers from the project. Id. The parties never discussed how plaintiff would be credited for his work. Id. at 117.

In the pre-production and production phases of the film, plaintiff hired the majority of the crew members, procured free and reduced-price equipment rentals and food, obtained shooting locations, arranged for the crew's transportation, prepared the film's shooting schedule and budget, advertised and promoted the film, maintained a production log, and attempted to locate missing equipment. Id. at 74-76, 82, 121, 127, 136, 137.

In addition, documents prepared by plaintiff, to which defendant did not object, listed plaintiff as producer. Jan. Tr. at 26-27, 132. A contract between the two also listed plaintiff as producer of the film, although defendant contends that he was coerced into signing it. See id. at 89, 117; Def.'s Ex. F. Plaintiff, however, forged defendant's signature on a Screen Actors Guild ("SAG") contract, thereby indicating that defendant was the film's producer. See Def.'s Ex. D. Defendant, therefore, is potentially liable to SAG as the film's producer. See id.

Plaintiff's participation in the post-production phase of the film, however, was less extensive. See Jan. Tr. at 94, 121-22. Although plaintiff contends that his limited involvement was the result of defendant's refusal to allow him to participate, the record indicates that plaintiff did not expressly state his desire to participate in post-production until April 2003, after he learned that the film had been accepted to the Toronto Film Festival and after most of the post-production work had been completed. See id. at 94, 121-24; Hr'g Tr., Apr. 7, 2004 ("Apr. Tr.") at 22, 29; Def.'s Ex. M.

Following his work on the film, plaintiff posted a resume on an industry website advertising himself as a line producer. Def.'s Ex. H. He suggested on the resume that he was qualified for a line producer position because of his experience in "budgeting, fundraising, scheduling, auditions, rehearsals, crew assembly, location procural, insurance, permits, transportation, equipment, food." See id. Plaintiff's resume also stated, however, that he is "currently producing HD feature," a reference to "Madness and Genius." See id.

The film appeared in the Toronto Film Festival. See Eslinger Decl. 1 28. Plaintiff received no credit as either producer or line producer in any of defendant's submissions to that festival, to other festivals, or in any other promotional materials prepared for the film. Jan. Tr. at 98-99. In addition, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), a database used in the film industry to check resume accuracy, has been contacted by both parties regarding this disagreement and currently lists plaintiff as line producer and coproducer and defendant as producer. See Jan. Tr. at 139; Letter of K. William Clauson, Mar. 27, 2006 ("Def.'s letter"); Letter of Robert Clarida, Feb. 14, 2006 ("Pl.'s letter); (last visited Sept. 7, 2006).

In October 2003, plaintiff submitted to this Court an Order to Show Cause for Preliminary Injunctive Relief. On November 20, 2003, defendant moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. This Court held evidentiary hearings on January 14 and February 11, 2004, and heard Oral Argument on plaintiff's application on April 7, 2004.*fn3


A. Preliminary ...

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