Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

James E. Zalewski et al v. T.P. Builders

November 21, 2012

JAMES E. ZALEWSKI ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
T.P. BUILDERS, INC. ET AL., DEFENDANTS. JAMES E. ZALEWSKI ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CICERO BUILDER DEV., INC. ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan E. Farley, Esq. Gary L. Sharpe Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction*fn1

Plaintiffs James Zalewski and Draftics, Ltd. commenced these actions for copyright infringement under the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended,*fn2 against multiple defendants, including T.P. Builders, Inc. and Thomas Paonessa (collectively "T.P."); Roxanne K. Heller and DeRaven Design & Drafting (collectively "DeRaven"); and Cicero Building Dev., Inc. and Luigi Cicero (collectively "Cicero"). (See 3d Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 138, 10-cv-876; Compl., Dkt. No. 1, 11-cv-1156.) In a Memorandum-Decision and Order dated June 19, 2012, the court dismissed plaintiffs' claims, and entered judgment for defendants shortly thereafter. (See generally Dkt. Nos. 194, 195.) Pending are T.P., DeRaven and Cicero's motions for attorneys' fees and costs. (See Dkt. Nos. 196, 197; Dkt. No. 25, 11-cv-1156.) For the reasons that follow, T.P. and DeRaven's motions are granted in part, and Cicero's motion is denied.

II. Background

The court presumes the parties' familiarity with the underlying facts and procedural history as discussed in its previous Memorandum-Decision and Order. (See Dkt. No. 194 at 3-7.)

III. Standard of Review

The Copyright Act provides that the court may award reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing party at its discretion. See 17 U.S.C. § 505. In making this determination, the court considers the following factors: "'frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness (both in the factual and in the legal components of the case) and the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence.'" Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517, 534 n.19 (1994)

(quoting Lieb v. Topstone Indus., Inc., 788 F.2d 151, 156 (3d Cir. 1986)). While there is not a "precise rule or formula" in determining whether an award of fees is appropriate, Silberstein v. Fox Entm't Grp., Inc., 536 F. Supp. 2d 440, 443 (S.D.N.Y. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted), courts generally afford greater weight to the objective reasonableness of a claim. See Matthew Bender & Co. v. West Publ'g Co., 240 F.3d 116, 121-22 (2d Cir. 2001). Yet no matter what factors the court considers, it must remain "faithful to the purposes of the Copyright Act." Id. at 121 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, simply deciding which party prevailed is not determinative, see Silberstein, 536 F. Supp. 2d at 443, as "the interests of the Copyright Act" are served by any claim-successful or not-that aides in, inter alia, demarcating "the boundaries of copyright law," Matthew Bender, 240 F.3d at 122 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). But see Matthews v. Freedman, 157 F.3d 25, 29 (1st Cir. 1998) ("Depending on other circumstances, a district court could conclude that the losing party should pay even if all of the arguments it made were reasonable.")

IV. Discussion

Among other arguments,*fn3 T.P. DeRaven and Cicero*fn4 assert that plaintiffs' claims were objectively unreasonable, and thus, they are entitled to attorneys' fees and costs. (See Dkt. No. 196, Attach. 1 at 2-5; Dkt. No. 197, Attach. 1 at 8-12; Dkt. No. 25, Attach. 1 at 1-5, 11-cv-1156.) Relying, in part, on the evolving nature of architectural copyright law, plaintiffs counter that the causes of action contained in the Third Amended Complaint were reasonable; however, in so doing, they implicitly concede that the earlier Complaints were not legally sound. (See Dkt. No. 200 at 1-12.) Moreover, plaintiffs contend that even if attorneys' fees are appropriate, the fees requested are excessive. (See id. at 12-19.) The court will address each of these arguments in turn.

A. Appropriateness of Attorneys' Fees

While some are clearer than others, defendants' arguments are essentially the same; each cites the protracted nature of this litigation and their ultimate success on the merits to support their contentions that plaintiffs' claims were objectively unreasonable. (See Dkt. No. 196, Attach. 1 at 2-5; Dkt. No. 197, Attach. 1 at 8-12; Dkt. No. 25, Attach. 1 at 1-5, 11-cv-1156.) However, their reliance on at least the latter factor is misplaced, as success alone is not dispositive. See Silberstein, 536 F. Supp. 2d at 443. Rather, in this Circuit, a finding of objective unreasonableness is generally reserved for those claims "that are clearly without merit or otherwise patently devoid of legal or factual basis." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Applying this standard to plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint, the court disagrees with defendants.

This is so for several reasons, including the fact that neither the Second Circuit nor this court has established any clear precedent that squarely fits the facts here. (See Dkt. No. 194 at 12-29.) Although the court identified ample support for its conclusion that the works in question were not substantially similar, it was only able to do so after conducting a side-by-side comparison of the works, with a focus on the elements thereof that constituted protected expression. (See id. at 29-38.) Indeed, it is quite possible that this litigation, which is currently before the Circuit for review, will clarify the threshold between those architectural works that are sufficiently specific to warrant protection, and those that are not, as well as the appropriate test for substantial similarity where the work is only protectable as a compilation. Given these considerations, the court is unpersuaded that plaintiffs' causes of action in their Third Amended Complaint lacked a legal or factual basis.

But the same cannot be said for plaintiffs' earlier Complaints, which were strewn with legal conclusions and lacked sufficient factual bases to survive defendants' motions to dismiss. (See generally Dkt. No. 133.) In fact, plaintiffs did not even include copies of their works or proof of copyright registration with either the Amended or Second Amended Complaints. (See Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 11; 2d Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 60.) And while there are in excess of eighty drawings attached to the original Complaint, the description of the alleged infringement is nearly unintelligible. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Finally, plaintiffs' decision to name numerous defendants who they now admit "bore no culpability," (Dkt. No. 200 at 2), unnecessarily complicated the ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.