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Mahan v. Roc Nation, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 15, 2015

CHAUNCEY MAHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ROC NATION, LLC, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

This action arises from Plaintiff Chauncey Mahan's work as a sound engineer on three albums, published by Defendant Roc-A-Fella Records ("Roc-A-Fella") and featuring Defendant Shawn Carter. The Amended Complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that Mahan shares copyright interests in the albums and in related, unpublished recordings. Plaintiff also seeks damages for conversion and trespass to chattel arising from an incident in which Defendants allegedly contacted the Los Angeles Police Department, resulting in the seizure of equipment owned by Plaintiff. Defendants Roc-A-Fella and Carter move to dismiss the Amended Complaint. For the following reasons, their motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The facts below are taken from the Amended Complaint and assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion.

Plaintiff Chauncey Mahan is a sound engineer and music programmer who has collaborated with a number of prominent music artists. Defendant Roc-A-Fella is a record label founded in 1995 by Defendant Shawn Carter, a recording artist popularly known as Jay Z. Defendant Roc Nation ("Roc Nation") is a "full-service entertainment company, " also founded by Carter, engaged in talent management, music publishing, touring, merchandising, film and television and new business ventures.

From August 1, 1999, to November 15, 2000, at Carter's request, Roc-A-Fella commissioned Mahan as an independent contractor to create sound recordings. During this period, Mahan contributed to 41 sound recordings in collaboration with Carter and Roc-A-Fella. These 41 recordings were sold as part of three albums (the "Albums"), and 31 of these featured performances by Carter himself (the "Carter Recordings"). Another ten recordings (the "Beanie Sigel Recordings") featured a non-party rapper popularly known as Beanie Sigel. Mahan is credited and thanked as a contributor in the materials included in the recordings' CDs.

Mahan's collaborative relationship with Carter and Roc-A-Fella ended in November 2000. At the time, Mahan possessed computer hard drives and storage peripherals that contained "unpublished joint works" - that is, records and mixes produced with Carter and Roc-A-Fella that were not ultimately released to the public. Mahan also had in his possession removable storage containing both unpublished recordings and album versions of songs. In November 2000, Mahan wrote to executives at Roc-A-Fella to inform them that "he was in possession of multitrack recordings made in collaboration" with Roc-A-Fella. Mahan never received a response.

On April 17, 2014, counsel for Roc Nation was told to meet Mahan at his storage unit. There, they spent several hours inventorying "valuable items" in Mahan's possession. The Amended Complaint alleges that, afterwards, Defendants instructed counsel for Roc Nation to call the local police and convince them that Mahan should be arrested for the possession of stolen property. On April 18, 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department seized items from Mahan's storage unit. Mahan was not arrested or charged with any crimes related to the incident.

On May 6, 2014, counsel for Mahan participated in a telephone conference with counsel for Roc Nation. During this call, Mahan's counsel asserted a "joint copyright ownership interest" in the sound recordings retrieved from Mahan's storage unit.

On July 8, 2014, Mahan filed this action. The Amended Complaint alleges five claims, including four claims for declaratory judgment pursuant to the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. ยง 101 et seq. Mahan seeks a declaratory judgment that, although Roc-A-Fella may have registered copyrights to the Albums as "compilation works, " Mahan possesses copyright interests in the Albums' individual tracks. Mahan also seeks judicial declarations that he shares joint copyright ownership interests with Carter in the Carter Recordings and with Roc-A-Fella in the Beanie Sigel Recordings. Mahan also seeks a declaratory judgment that he has copyright ownership interests - and that Defendants have none - in unpublished recordings, including "Original B-Side mixes and untitled dubplates." Mahan's fifth claim alleges that Roc-A-Fella, Carter and Roc Nation committed conversion and trespass to chattels by "initiating a sham' criminal proceeding against Mahan, " resulting in the seizure of Mahan's chattels - specifically, removable storage media, computers, hard drives and an audio player - by the Los Angeles Police Department.

STANDARD

On a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Hooks v. Forman, Holt, Eliades & Ravin, LLC, 717 F.3d 282, 284 (2d Cir. 2013). To withstand dismissal, a pleading "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires factual allegations that are sufficient to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Anderson News, L.L.C. v. Am. Media, Inc., 680 F.3d 162, 182 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

On a motion to dismiss, the court may consider the complaint, "[d]ocuments that are attached to the complaint or incorporated in it by reference, " "document[s] upon which the complaint solely relies and which is integral to the complaint, " and "matters of which judicial notice may be taken." Garanti Finansal Kiralama A.S. v. Aqua Marine & Trading ...


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