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Ritchie v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

October 29, 2004, Argued ; January 11, 2005, Decided ; January 11, 2005, Filed

File Name: 05a0014p.06

No. 03-1279

Opinion

 [****1431]   [*285]  [***2]   MERRITT, Circuit Judge. This case arises from a dispute between a singer-songwriter known as "Kid Rock" (Robert Ritchie) and a promoter, Alvin Williams, and his group of associates, who entered into a series of music contracts in 1989 before Kid Rock became successful. The primary questions before [**2]  us are (1) whether the District Court erred in holding that a Michigan state court action, arising from the contracts, by the Williams group against Kid Rock is preempted by the Copyright Act under the developing doctrine of "complete preemption" and hence removable to the federal court as presenting federal copyright issues rather than state claims, and (2) whether the District Court erred in foreclosing the state claims under the three-year statute of limitations found in the Copyright Act. In Section II below, we will incorporate the facts in more detail in our review of the state law claims brought in state court by the Williams group. In the first section, we will discuss the doctrine of federal jurisdiction that allows the recharacterization and removal of such claims.

I. The District Court Correctly Applied the Doctrine of Complete Preemption to Allow Removal

Section 301 of the Copyright Act broadly preempts state law claims, and federal law vests exclusive jurisdiction over such preempted copyright claims in the federal courts. Section 301 of the Copyright Act states that "all legal or equitable rights that are equivalent to any of the exclusive rights within  [**3]   the general scope of copyright as specified in § 106 in works of authorship that . . . come within the subject matter of copyright . . . are governed exclusively by this title. . . . No person is entitled to any such right or equivalent right in any such work under the common law or statutes of any State." 17 U.S.C. § 301(a) (emphasis added). 2 Section 1388(a), Title 28, further provides  [*286]  that "the district courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction of any civil action arising under any act of Congress relating to . . . copyrights . . . . Such jurisdiction shall be exclusive of the courts of the states in . . . copyright cases." The Copyright Act is unusually broad in its assertion of federal authority. Rather than sharing jurisdiction with the state courts as is normally the case, the statute expressly withdraws from the state courts any jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the Act and converts all state common or statutory law "within the general scope of copyright" into federal law to be uniformly applied throughout the nation.

 [**4]  Under Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 64-65, 95 L. Ed. 2d 55, 107 S. Ct. 1542 (1987), ] the "complete preemption" doctrine serves to "recharacterize a state law claim . . . as an action arising under federal law" and "converts an ordinary state common law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule." Or as is stated in Moran v. Rush Prudential HMO,  [***3]  Inc., 230 F.3d 959, 967 (7th Cir. 2000), the complete preemption doctrine "permits recharacterization of a plaintiff's claim as a federal claim so that removal is proper" even though the complaint may not mention a federal basis of jurisdiction. The doctrine of complete preemption applies, for example, in the labor management collective bargaining field and to ERISA plans. In dissent, Justice Scalia criticizes the doctrine as the "federalize-and-remove dance" in Beneficial National Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8, 156 L. Ed. 2d 1, 123 S. Ct. 2058 (2003); but, for a 7-2 majority, Justice Stevens follows the doctrine as  [****1432]  enunciated in earlier cases. He holds that a state law usury claim against a national bank is "completely preempted" and removable [**5]  when Congress vests exclusive jurisdiction in the federal courts after broadly preempting usury claims under the National Bank Act. The rationale is that in such situations the federal statutory laws "supersede both the substantive and remedial provision of state" law creating a strong form of federal preemption -- presumably because of the additional need for a strong form of national uniformity implied by Congress when it made federal court jurisdiction exclusive after broadly preempting state law.

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395 F.3d 283 *; 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 388 **; 2005 FED App. 0014P (6th Cir.) ***; 73 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1430 ****; Copy. L. Rep. (CCH) P28,945

ROBERT RITCHIE, presently known as Kid Rock; TOP DOG RECORDS, INC., and KID ROCK SUPERSTORES, INC., Plaintiffs/Cross-Defendants-Appellees, v. ALVIN B. WILLIAMS; EB-BRAN PRODUCTIONS, INC.; BOW-WOW PUBLISHING, INC., and TOP DOG PUBLISHING, Defendants/Cross-Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Subsequent History: Companion case at EB-Bran Prods. v. Warner Elektra Atl., Inc., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28621 ( E.D. Mich., Nov. 18, 2005)

Related proceeding at Eb-Bran Prods. v. Ritchie, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38678 ( E.D. Mich., June 12, 2006)

Prior History:  [**1]  Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 01-71712. Nancy G. Edmunds, District Judge.

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

songs, preemption, district court, preempted, partnership, Records, parties, rights, state law claim, infringement, ownership, removal, courts, federal law, recharacterization, contracts, trademark, statute of limitations

Copyright Law, Civil Infringement Actions, Jurisdiction, Federal Court Jurisdiction, General Overview, Constitutional Copyright Protections, Federal & State Law Interrelationships, Federal Preemption, Scope of Copyright Protection, Ownership Rights, Defenses, Statute of Limitations, Civil Procedure, Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Federal Questions, Removal, Elements, Governments, Legislation, Statute of Limitations, Time Limitations, Business & Corporate Compliance, Trademark Law, Conveyances, Franchises, Trademark Law, Abandonment