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Directv, LLC v. Fields

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

October 2, 2017

DIRECTV, LLC PLAINTIFF
v.
JAMES FIELDS, ET AL. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          David L. Bunning, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiff DIRECTV, LLC's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 36). In its motion, DIRECTV, LLC (“DIRECTV”) seeks partial summary judgment on its Telecommunications Act claim against Defendants James Fields, d/b/a Fields Cablevision; Walkertown Cable Services, LLC (“Walkertown Cable”); and Daniel Boone Motor Inn, Inc. (“Daniel Boone Motor Inn”) (collectively “Defendants”). DIRECTV also seeks partial summary judgment against Defendant Altro T.V. Co., Inc. (“Altro T.V. Co.”) and dismissal of its claims against Defendant Brittany Fields, who has neither been served nor filed a responsive pleading.

         Defendants have failed to timely respond despite the Court's June 13, 2017 Order requiring them to do so. (Doc. # 39). Therefore, Defendants having failed to respond, and the time to do so having expired, this matter is ripe for the Court's review. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1338(a).[1]

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Given the present procedural context, and Defendants' failure to respond to the Motion, the factual summary that follows is taken from DIRECTV's Complaint (Doc. # 1) and Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. # 36). DIRECTV operates a direct broadcast satellite system responsible for delivering television channels to residences and businesses equipped with specialized DIRECTV receiving equipment. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 12). The receiving equipment consists of a satellite dish, a receiver, and an access card necessary to operate the receiver. Id.

         DIRECTV's residential customers are bound by the terms and conditions set forth in the DIRECTV Customer Agreement. Id. at ¶ 19. The Agreement prohibits “any re-broadcasting or retransmitting of DIRECTV programming, or viewing or use of that programming at a location other than the subscriber's residence.” Id. DIRECTV offers customers additional receivers so that households may have more than one television per home. Id. at ¶ 20. The additional receivers “mirror” the level of services authorized for the first receiver. Id. In order to be eligible for “mirroring, ” DIRECTV requires each additional receiver to be physically located in the customer's household. Id.

         DIRECTV also provides services to customers who wish to display DIRECTV programming in “lodging institutions such as hotels, motels, or resorts through a Satellite Master Antenna Television (“SMATV”) account.” Id. at ¶ 21. The SMATV Viewing Agreement “prohibits the reception or viewing of DIRECTV programming at any location other than the property approved by DIRECTV.” Id. at ¶ 23. Additionally, the Viewing Agreement further prohibits any “reselling, transmitting, or rebroadcasting of DIRECTV programming outside the designated property.” Id.

         Defendant James Fields had a residential account with DIRECTV and had also created DIRECTV accounts on behalf of several businesses that he owns and operates.[2]Id. at ¶ 25-27. It is this connection that provides the basis for DIRECTV'S claims against Defendants. Specifically, Defendant James Fields owns and operates cable systems that supply cable-television services to residential and commercial customers under the business names Fields Cablevision, Walkertown Cable, and Altro T.V. Co. Id. at ¶ 24. DIRECTV alleges that beginning as early as November 1999, when the Defendants' first account was opened, and continuing through June 2015, when their last known account was terminated, Defendants “used false information to open at least five DIRECTV customer accounts, and in turn used those fraudulent accounts to obtain and activate at least 76 integrated receivers that were used to decrypt and view DIRECTV programming.” (Doc. # 36 at 2). DIRECTV alleges that Defendants distributed the programming over cable systems owned and operated by Defendants without DIRECTV's knowledge or consent. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 37).

         In February 2014, after receiving a report that DIRECTV programming was possibly being used as the source of television programming by several cable companies located in and around eastern Kentucky, DIRECTV undertook an investigation to determine whether Defendants were rebroadcasting DIRECTV programming to Defendants' own cable customers. (Doc. # 36 at 9). The undisputed evidence shows that Defendants Fields Cablevision, Walkertown Cable Services, and Altro T.V. Co., were fraudulently obtaining DIRECTV satellite television programming and distributing that programming over their own cable systems to customers. Id.

         To confirm Defendants' fraudulent activities, DIRECTV transmitted an On-Screen Display (“OSD”) to receivers associated with Defendants' accounts. The OSD was visible only to persons receiving programing through the Defendants' accounts. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 37). The OSD directed viewers to call a telephone number that was set up as part of DIRECTV's investigation. Id. at ¶ 38. DIRECTV received at least nine calls in response to the OSD. Callers reported that they received a message at their residences where they obtained television programming through a cable wire running to their television rather than a receiver box. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 38). Five callers indicated that they were not DIRECTV customers, but instead, were customers of Defendants' cable service(s). (Doc. # 36 at 12). One of the callers reported being a customer of Defendant Altro T.V. Co., and another caller reported being a customer of Walkertown Cable. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 38). DIRECTV has been unable to determine the exact number of cable-television customers using the Defendants' cable systems. (Doc. # 32).

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Defendant Brittany Fields is voluntarily dismissed from this action.

         DIRECTV has indicated its intent to voluntarily dismiss its claims against Defendant Brittany Fields pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1). (Doc. # 36 at ¶ 1). Voluntary dismissal by a plaintiff is permitted without a court order by filing a notice of dismissal before “the opposing party serves either an answer or a motion for summary judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i). Thus, since Defendant Brittany Fields has neither been served nor filed a responsive pleading, DIRECTV is entitled to voluntarily dismiss its claims against Defendant Brittany Fields. Therefore, given that DIRECTV has indicated its intent to do so, and no order from the Court being required, Defendant Brittany Fields is dismissed from this action without prejudice. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(b).

         B. DIRECTV's construed Motion for Default Judgment is granted.

         DIRECTV seeks partial summary judgment against Defendant Altro T.V. Co, Inc. However, given the procedural posture of DIRECTV's claim, the Motion will instead be construed as a Motion for Default Judgment. On August 28, 2015, the Clerk entered Default against Defendant Altro T.V. Co., for failure to plead or otherwise defend itself against DIRECTV's Complaint. (Doc. # 20). DIRECTV has not filed a Motion for Default Judgment against Altro T.V. Co., but has instead filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Thus, that Motion will be construed as a Motion for Default Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55. DIRECTV's construed Motion for Default Judgment is granted; however, pursuant to Rule 55(b)(2), the Court will conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine the amount of damages for which Altro T.V. Co., is liable.

         C. DIRECTV is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the record reveals “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists where “there is sufficient evidence … for a jury to return a verdict for” the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The “moving party bears the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact.” Sigler v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 532 F.3d 469, 483 (6th Cir. 2008).

         Once a party files a properly supported motion for summary judgment, it is then left to the adverse party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. However, “the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-moving party's] position will be insufficient.” Id. at 252. The question the Court must ultimately decide is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that ...


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