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Mitchell v. Universal Music Group Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

March 30, 2018

UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP INC., et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is an amended motion to compel supplemental discovery responses (DN 83) filed by plaintiff Leroy Philip Mitchell (“Mitchell”). Defendants Andre Young (“Young”), Lorenzo Patterson (“Patterson”), and Capitol Records, LLC[1] (“Capitol”) collectively responded on January 31, 2017 (DN 85), and Mitchell replied on February 7, 2017 (DN 86.) For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Mitchell's motion to compel.

         I. Statement of Facts and Procedural History

         Mitchell, a singer, songwriter, and music producer who performs under the name Prince Philip Mitchell, filed this copyright infringement action against defendants in February 2015. (DN 1.) Mitchell is the copyright holder of the musical composition “Star in the Ghetto” through his company, Hot Stuff Publishing. (DN 116, #823.) Shortly after receiving his copyright in 1977, Mitchell entered into a contract allowing a subsidiary of defendant Universal Media Group Inc. (“Universal”) to record and market a performance of “Star in the Ghetto.” (Id.) The eventual song, “A Star in the Ghetto, ” was recorded by the music group Average White Band and solo artist Ben E. King. (Id.) Mitchell alleges that Young and Patterson, better known by their professional names of Dr. Dre and MC Ren, respectively, sampled a portion of “A Star in the Ghetto” when recording the song “If It Ain't Ruff, ” which first appeared on the 1988 album Straight Outta Compton by Young's and Patterson's hip-hop group, N.W.A. (Id. at 824.) Mitchell claims that he never gave Capitol, Young, or Patterson permission to use portions of his musical composition “Star in the Ghetto, ” and thus filed the instant action for alleged violations of federal copyright statutes. (Id. at 822, 825.)

         In January 2017, Mitchell filed an amended motion to compel (DN 83), requesting that this Court compel defendants to supplement and/or answer several of his requests for production, requests for admission, and interrogatories. (DN 83-1, #433.) Mitchell's main contention was that defendants had “improperly imposed a three-year limitation on documents and information provided”; defendants had argued that copyright law only permitted Mitchell to recover damages for the three years preceding the date of his lawsuit. (Id.; DN 85, #562.) In April 2017, defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment (DN 88), seeking, inter alia, to cap Mitchell's damages based largely on the same arguments they put forward in their response to Mitchell's motion to compel. Mitchell's motion to compel remained pending in light of defendants' motion for summary judgment. On December 18, 2017, this Court denied the portion of defendants' motion regarding a damage cap. (DN 124.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Rule 26(b)(1) defines the scope of and limits on discovery. It provides:

Scope in General. Unless otherwise limited by court order, the scope of discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within the scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Additionally, “[o]n motion or on its own, the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by these rules or by local rule if it determines that:

(i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive;
(ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action; or
(iii) the proposed discovery is outside the scope permitted by Rule 26(b)(1).

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C).

         Rule 26(e)(1) governs supplementation of a party's discovery responses. It imposes a duty of supplementation on a party who has responded to an interrogatory, request for production, or request for admission. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(e)(1). The supplementation must be made “in a timely manner … if the additional or corrective information has not otherwise been made known to the other parties during the discovery process or in writing; or as ordered by the court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(e)(1)(A)-(B).

         It is axiomatic that the Court has broad discretion in determining the proper scope of discovery. Chrysler Corp. v. Fedders Corp., 643 F.2d 1229, 1240 (6th Cir. 1981); Naartex Consulting Corp. v. Watt, 722 F.2d 779, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1983); Hibbs v. Marcum, 2018 WL 953347, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Feb. 20, 2018).

         III. Analysis

         Mitchell raises three concerns with defendants' responses - or lack thereof - to his discovery requests. First, Mitchell argues that defendants have improperly imposed a three-year limitation on their responses, and he demands that they supplement their responses with “all responsive documents from [1988] to present.” (DN 83-1, #433.) Second, Mitchell requests that defendants “supplement any and all incomplete answers and/or responses that lack any substance.” (Id.) Third, Mitchell requests that the Court order defendants to “produce mutually agreed upon items, ” which include master tapes, distribution agreements, and protocol documents regarding recording, editing, and production. (Id.) Because the Court has recently ruled on defendants' three-year limitation argument in its December 18, 2017 order, it will address it here first.

         A. Pre-February 5, 2012 Financial Documents

         1. Three-Year Limitation

         In several of its responses to Mitchell's discovery requests, defendants asserted that his claims are “subject to a three (3) year statute of limitations, so the financial information requested is limited to the timeframe of February 5, 2012 until present.” (DN 83-1, #434.) Capitol asserted this defense, or a variation of it, in Requests for Production Nos. 5-7, 9-12, 22- 24 and Interrogatories Nos. 8, 9, 15; Young asserted this defense or variation of it in Requests for Production Nos. 5 - 12, 22, 24, and Interrogatories No. 7, 8, 14. (DN 83-2, 465-66, 470, 474- 78, 485-87; DN 83-3, 504-05, 508-09, 513-18, 525-26.) In both the instant motion and his response to defendants' motion for partial summary judgment, Mitchell argued that while the Copyright Act provides a three-year statute of limitations, the limitation period begins to run only when a plaintiff's claim accrues. (DN 83-1, #434.) Sixth Circuit jurisprudence, he continued, allows for copyright infringement plaintiffs to recover outside of the three-year window so long as they did not discover the infringement before the commencing of the three-year period. (Id.) Defendants, on the other hand, had argued that the Supreme Court's recent ruling in Petrella v. MGM, 134 S.Ct. 1962 (2014), abrogated any Sixth Circuit precedent regarding recovery for copyright infringement plaintiffs. (DN 85, #563.)

         The undersigned's decision is straightforward in light of the Court's December 18, 2017 ruling. There, the Court denied defendants' motion for summary judgment on the issue of damages and held that “Petrella does not require the Court to ignore Sixth Circuit precedent that clearly defines accrual of a copyright claim as occurring when the plaintiff ‘knew of the potential violation or is chargeable with such knowledge.' ” (DN 124, #956) (internal citations omitted). In Petrella, the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of laches could not be used by a defendant in a copyright infringement case to preclude a claim of damages within the three-year limitations period. Petrella v. MGM, 134 S.Ct. 1962, 1973 (2014). The Petrella Court made several observations[2] in the course of its decision that called into question the validity of the “discovery rule.” In the Sixth Circuit, as in majority of other circuits, the discovery rule starts the limitations period not at the time of the alleged wrongful act, but when the plaintiff discovers (or reasonably should have discovered) the injury that forms the basis of the claim. Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Rhyme Syndicate Music, 376 F.3d 615, 621 (6th Cir. 2004). But as the Court stated, not only have a wide-range of District Courts determined that Petrella did not abrogate the “discovery rule, ” the Supreme Court itself noted the ...

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