Muzikowski v. Paramount Pictures Corp.

322 F.3d 918

 

RULE:

While a party cannot normally bring an appeal after a voluntary dismissal of some claims, where the party has already voluntarily dismissed his complaint once before, the second voluntary dismissal operates as an adjudication upon the merits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1). From that point of view as well, it is a final judgment from which the party may appeal under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291.

FACTS:

Appellant individual sued appellees, corporations that produced a movie, and alleged defamation on the theory that one particular character easily identifiable as himself was portrayed in a negative way, which amounted to disseminating falsehoods about him. Despite the disclaimer in the credits of the movie that the story was fictitious, the individual contended that the main character in the movie was in fact a portrayal of him since they experienced almost exactly the same things. The  District Court granted the appellee corporations' motion to dismiss. The individual appealed. The appellate court found that because the individual had already voluntarily dismissed his complaint, his second voluntary dismissal operated as an adjudication upon the merits under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1), and thus, was a final judgment from which the individual could appeal under 28 U.S.C.S. § 1291.

ISSUE:

Did appellant in essence plead himself out of court, by showing that the federal trier of fact would be compelled to find an innocent construction of the movie? 

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

Because Illinois' heightened pleading standard for complaints that based claims on publications that did not literally name the plaintiff did not apply in a federal court, the individual's claim for defamation per se did not fall under the special pleading regime of Fed. R. Civ. P. 9, and he was entitled to the usual rules for notice pleading under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. Thus, because the district court improperly relied on Illinois pleading rules when it granted the corporations' motion to dismiss, the individual's allegations entitled him to the chance to prove his claim under a defamation per se theory and his claim for the tort of false light privacy. Even if appellant's complaint would not have met Illinois's heightened pleading standard, we are satisfied that it was sufficient to put appellee Paramount on notice of his claim. In his complaint, he lists in great detail many similarities between himself and the main character that could cause a reasonable person in the community to believe that the actor was intended to depict him and that Paramount intended Hardball's mischaracterizations to refer to him.

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