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Mercedes Benz, USA, LLC v. Lewis

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division

September 11, 2019, Decided; September 11, 2019, Filed

Case No. 19-10948; Case No. 19-10949; Case No. 19-10951

Opinion

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

I. Introduction

These are declaratory judgment actions arising out of alleged copyright infringement violations. Plaintiff Mercedes Benz USA, LLC (Mercedes) filed three (3) declaratory judgment actions in this district against defendants who are artists and represented by the same counsel.1 In broad terms, Mercedes obtained a permit to photograph various locations in downtown Detroit in conjunction with advertising one of its vehicles. Mercedes posted six (6) of the photographs on Instagram which depict in whole or in part murals painted on public buildings in Detroit by defendants. Defendants, through counsel, sent letters to Mercedes contending that the use of defendants' murals violates copyright law. Mercedes responded by seeking declaratory relief.

Defendants are: James Lewis (Lewis), Daniel Bombardier (Bombardier), Jeff Soto (Soto) and Maxx Gramajo (Gramajo).

Before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by each defendant, as follows:

Lewis' motion to dismiss, [*3]  Doc. 8 in case no. 19-10948

Bombardier's motion to dismiss, Doc. 12 in case no. 19-10951

Soto and Gramajo's motion to dismiss, Doc. 9 in case no. 19-10949

All of the defendants argue that the declaratory judgment complaints fail to state a claim because (1) the case is not ripe as defendants have not registered copyrights, (2) Mercedes has failed to state a claim under the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA), 17 U.S.C. § 120(a). Soto and Gramajo also argue that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over them.

For the reasons that follow, the motions will be denied. As will be explained, Mercedes has alleged a plausible claim for declaratory relief against defendants and the Court has personal jurisdiction over all of the defendants.

II. Background

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2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154818 *; Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P31,517; 2019 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 340535; 2019 WL 4302769

MERCEDES BENZ, USA, LLC., Plaintiff, v. JAMES LEWIS, JEFF SOTO and MAXX GRAMAJO, DANIEL BOMBARDIER, Defendants.

Subsequent History: Later proceeding at Mercedes Benz, USA, LLC v. Lewis, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166073 ( E.D. Mich., Sept. 26, 2019)

Reconsideration denied by Mercedes Benz v. Lewis, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 199879 ( E.D. Mich., Nov. 18, 2019)

CORE TERMS

mural, defendants', photograph, registration, infringement, declaratory judgment action, painted, personal jurisdiction, architectural, depicted, structures, register, copyright infringement, declaratory relief, motion to dismiss, district court, picture, visible, non-infringement, posted, habitation, sculptural, permanent, publicly, availed, towers, ripe