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Houdet v. United States Tennis Association

United States District Court, E.D. New York

December 3, 2014

STEPHANE HOUDET and ALAN J. RICH, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION, DANIEL MALASKY, DAVID BREWER, DAVID SCHOBEL, JEREMIAH YOLKUT, HARLAN STONE, GORDON SMITH, CHRIS WIDMAIER, and JOHN DOE and JANE DOE (employees, agents, and servants of UNITED STATES TENNIS ASSOCIATION whose names are unknown), Defendants

For the Plaintiffs: ALAN J. RICH, Law Offices of Alan J. Rich, New York, NY.

For the Defendants: JEFFREY I. CARTON, JOANNA FRANCES SANDOLO, Denlea & Carton LLP, White Plains, NY.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

FREDERIC BLOCK, Senior United States District Judge.

Stephane Houdet (" Houdet") and Alan J. Rich (" Rich") (collectively, " plaintiffs") bring this action against the United States Tennis Association (" USTA") and various USTA employees (collectively, " defendants"). Presently before the Court is defendants' unopposed motion to dismiss on the grounds that plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, or alternatively, that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim. For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that plaintiffs' claims are barred by res judicata.

II.

For purposes of this motion, the Court must take as true all of the allegations of plaintiffs' complaint, and must draw all inferences in their favor. See Weixel v. Board of Educ., 287 F.3d 138, 145 (2d Cir. 2002). The Court may also consider " documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference" and " matters of which judicial notice may be taken." Brass v. Am. Film Techs., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993). " [C]ourts routinely take judicial notice of documents filed in other courts, . . . not for the truth of the matters asserted in the other litigation, but rather to establish the fact of such litigation and related filings." Kramer v. Time Warner Inc., 937 F.2d 767, 774 (2d Cir. 1991). The following facts are presented accordingly.

A. State Court Lawsuits

On September 4, 2009, Houdet, a professional wheelchair tennis player, and Rich, a journalist, attorney, and documentary film-maker, sued the USTA in New York State Supreme Court, Kings County (" Houdet I "). The USTA is a non-profit organization that operates the yearly U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing, Queens. Rich was both plaintiff and Houdet's attorney in the lawsuit.

In Houdet I, plaintiffs alleged that the USTA had violated the New York City Human Rights Law (" NYCHRL") by discriminating against wheelchair tennis players during the U.S. Open. In particular, plaintiffs alleged that the USTA (1) refused to allow Rich to videotape wheelchair tennis matches, and (2) sold licenses to broadcasters who refused to televise wheelchair tennis matches, resulting in a discriminatory impact. These actions allegedly injured Rich by impairing his ability to produce a documentary about wheelchair tennis, and injured Houdet by negatively impacting his ability to earn money and relegating him to " second class status" at the U.S. Open. Complaint at ¶ 24, Houdet, et al. v. United States Tennis Association, Index. No. 22704/2009 (N.Y. S.Ct. Sept. 4, 2009). Plaintiffs demanded injunctive relief " directing the issuance of credentials for the U.S. Open . . . for Rich for his documentary and the permission to use such footage for his documentary and for the purposes of disseminating it." Id. at ¶ 28.

For reasons that are unclear, the lawsuit languished until September 2011, when plaintiffs moved for an expedited order allowing Rich to film at the 2011 U.S. Open. Plaintiffs also moved to vacate a " Notice of Trespass" barring Rich from the U.S. Open grounds, which was apparently issued when Rich was caught filming a wheelchair tennis match during the 2010 U.S. Open. After oral argument, the Supreme Court denied the motion on September 21, 2011.

USTA moved for summary judgment in March 2013, and in an order dated August 13, 2013, the court granted the motion and dismissed the lawsuit. With respect to Houdet, the court concluded that his claim failed as a matter of law because " the right to be filmed for one's own commercial benefit is simply not a privilege or right provided by the NYCHRL." Order at 15, Houdet, et al. v. United States Tennis Association, Index. No. 22704/2009 (N.Y. S.Ct. Aug. 13, 2013). The court also concluded that Houdet's discriminatory impact claim failed because " Houdet has not identified any USTA policy that results in a disparate impact." Id. at 17.

With respect to Rich, the court concluded that he lacked standing under the NYCHRL because he is " merely an individual who wishes to make a documentary about disabled athletes, which does not give rise to a claim of associational standing." Id. at 24. The court noted that, in his brief opposing summary judgment, Rich raised a new claim that the USTA retaliated against him for filing the lawsuit. The court rejected that claim, finding that " the court may entertain an unplead cause of action where the opposing party is not prejudiced, " and further concluding that " defendant has made a prima facie showing that the claim is without merit." Id. at 25.

On September 11, 2013, plaintiffs returned to state court and filed a Summons With Notice against the USTA and several USTA employees. No complaint was ultimately filed, however, and on June 26, 2014, the court dismissed the action for failure to timely file a complaint and for lack of personal jurisdiction over the USTA employees. Houdet, et al. v. ...


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