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Woolcott v. Baratta

United States District Court, E.D. New York

May 7, 2014

ROSALIND WOOLCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH BARATTA, J.R. BARATTA, INC. and AMADO ORTIZ, Defendants.

Alex Kriegsman, Esq., Kriegsman PC, Sag Harbor, NY, for Plaintiff.

Wendy Ellen Miller, Esq., Cooper & Dunham, New York, NY, Brian Marc Taddonio, Esq., Ditthavong Mori & Steiner, New York, NY, Defendants The Baratta Defendants.

Edward Timothy McAuliffe, Jr., Esq., Tarbet & Lester, PLLC, Amagansett, NY, Defendants Ortiz.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

JOANNA SEYBERT, District Judge.

Plaintiff Rosalind Woolcott ("Plaintiff" or "Woolcott") commenced this copyright infringement action on May 20, 2013 against Defendants Joseph Baratta ("Baratta"); J.R. Baratta, Inc. ("J.R. Baratta, " and together with Baratta, the "Baratta Defendants"); and Amado Ortiz ("Ortiz" and together with the Baratta Defendants, "Defendants"). Woolcott alleges that Defendants infringed upon her copyright in the architectural design of a residential house in East Hampton, New York when Defendants designed and constructed two houses that, according to Woolcott, are substantially similar to Woolcott's design. The Amended Complaint alleges copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. § 501 and state law claims of conversion and unfair competition. Defendants move to dismiss Woolcott's copyright claim for lack of statutory standing and for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docket Entries 18-19.) Defendants also move to dismiss the state law claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) or, in the alternative, on the basis that federal copyright law preempts the state law claims. For the following reasons, Defendants' motions are GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

BACKGROUND

I. Factual Background[1]

Woolcott is an individual residing in East Hampton, New York. (Am. Compl., Docket Enty 15, ¶ 4.) She holds a certificate of copyright registration issued by the United States Copyright Office for an "architectural work" identified in the registration certificate as The Woolcott Residence.[2] (Am. Compl. Ex. A.) The Woolcott Residence is a design of a residential home "embodied in a tangible medium of expression, including but not limited to, a building, architectural plans, and drawings." (Am. Compl. ¶ 14.) Construction of The Woolcott Residence was completed in East Hampton, New York in May of 2010. (Am. Compl. Ex. A.)

Woolcott alleges that J.R. Baratta (a homebuilding and general contracting company), Baratta (the president of J.R. Baratta), and Ortiz (an architect) illegally copied the design of The Woolcott Residence for use in the construction of two homes in East Hampton, New York-one at 5 Woodpink Drive (the "Woodpink House") and the other on Koala Lane (the "Koala House, " and together with the Woodpink House, the "Baratta Houses").[3] Woolcott specifically alleges that the Baratta Defendants "gained access to [The Woolcott Residence] by posing as potential buyers" and that they "obtained a copy of the plans for [The Woolcott Residence] through an inquiry at the Town of East Hampton Building Department." (Am. Comp. ¶¶ 32-33.) The Baratta Defendants then "showed [Ortiz The Woolcott Residence] and the architectural plans" and "employed and solicited [his] services... to copy [The Woolcott Residence] and infringe on [Woolcott's] copyright by creating drawings, sketches, and architectural plans that are substantially similar to the protectable elements of [Woolcott's] copyrightable subject matter." (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 34-35.)

The Amended Complaint asserts a cause of action for copyright infringement pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 501 and state law claims for "conversion of [Woolcott's] intellectual property" and unfair competition. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-60.) With respect to the unfair competition claim, Woolcott alleges that "Defendants obtained plans and designs of Plaintiff's intellectual property through intentional, unlawful, and deceptive conduct" and that the "use by Defendants of Plaintiff's copyright create [sic] an unfair advantage to the detriment of Plaintiff." (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 56, 58.) As an example, Woolcott alleges that she "was planning to sell the plans and designs to [The Woolcott Residence] and had at least one potential buyer who was willing to purchase the plans and designs... until he learned of Defendants' unlawful copying." (Am. Compl. ¶ 55.)

The Amended Complaint attaches the registration certificate and the architectural plans to The Woolcott Residence (the "Woolcott Plans"), which Woolcott deposited with the Copyright Office. (See Am. Compl. Exs. A-B.) The Amended Complaint also attaches a photograph of the back side of The Woolcott Residence, but not the front side of it; a photograph of the front side of the Woodpink House, but not the back side of it; and the architectural plans to the Woodpink House. (Am. Compl. Exs. C-E.) The Amended Complaint does not attach any photographs of the Koala House, nor does it attach the architectural plans to the Koala House.

II. Procedural History

Woolcott commenced this action on May 20, 2013. Defendants moved to dismiss the original Complaint in June of 2013. (Docket Entries 9 & 14.) On July 5, 2013, Woolcott filed the Amended Complaint, and the Court subsequently denied Defendants' original motions to dismiss as moot on August 21, 2013. On August9, 2013, the Baratta Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Docket Entry 18.) On August 15, 2013, Ortiz also moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint. (Docket Entry 19.) These motions are currently pending before the Court.

DISCUSSION

The Court will first address the applicable legal standard before turning to the merits of Defendants' ...


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