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Hale v. Bunce

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

October 23, 2017

MATTHEW HALE, et al., Plaintiffs,


          David A Ruiz United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Procedural Background

         On December 12, 2016, Plaintiffs Matthew Hale and Patrick Lyons, pro se, (hereinafter "Plaintiffs") filed a Complaint. (R. 1). After the case management deadlines were set by the District Judge, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned Magistrate Judge. (R. 19 & 21). After what appears to be rather limited discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (R. 25 & 26). The parties filed opposition briefs and reply briefs respectively. (R. 31, 32, 33, 34).

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the record "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Non-moving parties may rest neither upon the mere allegations of their pleadings nor upon general allegations that issues of fact may exist. See Bryant v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 490 F.2d 1273, 1275 (6th Cir. 1974). The Supreme Court held that: . . . [Rule 56] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The Sixth Circuit in Street v. J.C Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472 (6th Cir. 1989), has interpreted Celotex and two related cases, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986), and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574 (1986), as establishing a "new era" of favorable regard for summary judgment motions. Street points out that the movant has the initial burden of showing "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact" as to an essential element of the non-movant's case. This burden may be met by pointing out to the court that the responding party, having had sufficient opportunity for discovery, has no evidence to support an essential element of his or her case. Street, 886 F.2d at 1479. The respondent cannot rely on the hope that the trier of fact will disbelieve the movant's denial of a disputed fact, but must "present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment." Id. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the evidence, as well as any inferences to be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Kraus v. Sobel Corrugated Containers, Inc., 915 F.2d 227, 229 (6th Cir. 1990). In other words, at the summary judgment stage, it not a judge's function to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Id. at 249.

         B. Pro Se Pleadings

         The Sixth Circuit has held that "pro se pleadings are to be liberally construed and that in some cases active interpretation is required to construe a pro se petition to encompass any allegation stating federal relief." Johnson v. United States, 457 Fed.App'x 462, 467 (6th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing Franklin v. Rose, 765 F.2d 82, 85 (6th Cir. 1985); White v. Wyrick, 530 F.2d 818, 819 (8th Cir. 1976)). Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that generous construction of pro se filings is not limitless. Liberal construction "does not require those courts to conjure up questions never squarely presented to them, " "to construct full blown claims from sentence fragments, " "to anticipate all arguments that clever counsel may present in some appellate future, " or "to transform the district court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985); accord Crawford v. Crestar Foods, 210 F.3d 371 (6th Cir. 2000); Fayne v. Clipper, 2013 WL 459895 at *3 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 6, 2013) (Boyko, J.); Stancik v. CNBC, 420 F.Supp.2d 800, 808 (N.D. Ohio 2006). Courts have not abrogated basic pleading essentials in pro se suits. See, e.g., Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521, 92 S.Ct. 594, 596 (1972) (per curiam); Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989). Pro se litigants are required to state their claims in an understandable and efficient manner. Stone v. Warfleld, 184 F.R.D. 553, 555 (D. Md. 1999). The court is not required to manufacture allegations which are not properly pled. McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979); Ayers v. John Does 1-10, No. Cl-94-285, 1995 WL 313681, at *1 (S.D. Ohio Feb. 28, 1995); Abdool-Rashaad v. Setter, 690 F.Supp. 598, 600 (S.D. Ohio 1987).

         III. Analysis

         Keeping in mind that pro se pleadings are entitled to liberal construction, the court construes the Complaint as attempting to raise three causes of action, two of which are not cognizable. First, though articulated in the language of an infringement claim, the Plaintiffs allege that they are co-authors of several musical compositions created while they were in a band together with the Defendant. (R. 1). Second, Plaintiffs claim that Defendant, a co-author of the musical compositions, infringed on their rights by registering a copyright in said musical compositions that was inaccurate, by failing to share proceeds stemming from the musical compositions, and by generally failing to credit them as co-authors. Id. Third, Plaintiffs allege "[c]ontract fraud" stemming from a contract that was entered into between Defendant and a third-party-Opus 1 Music. Id. The court addresses these three causes of action in reverse order.

         A. Contract/Fraud Claim

         The Complaint alleges that non-party Opus 1 Music and Defendant entered into an agreement resulting in the placement of one of the allegedly joint musical compositions in a movie. (R. 1). Plaintiffs further allege that Opus 1 Music is a licensing company that "requires that the band owns the master recordings." Id. Because Plaintiffs allege that they were co-authors of the musical works in question and helped pay for the master recordings, they believe Defendant perpetrated a fraud upon Opus 1 Music.

         Plaintiffs, however, have not alleged that they were a party to the contract between Defendant and Opus 1 Music; and, therefore, they lack standing to bring a breach of contract claim against Defendant or to bring a claim that Opus 1 Music was fraudulently induced into entering a contract with Defendant. "It is well established that a contract is binding only upon parties to a contract and those in privity with them." Res. Title Agency, Inc. v. Morreale Real Estate Servs., Inc.,314 F.Supp.2d 763, 770 (N.D. Ohio 2004) (citing Samadder v. DMF of Ohio, Inc., 154 Ohio App.3d 770, 778, 798 N.E.2d 1141 (Ohio Ct. App. 2003); American RockMechanics, Inc. v. Ther mex Energy Corp.,80 Ohio App.3d 53, 58, 608 N.E.2d 830 (Ohio Ct. App. 1992)). "Accordingly, an action for breach of contract can only be maintained by the parties to the contract or those deriving rights from the contracting parties, such as an intended third-party beneficiary." Res. Title Agency, Inc., 314 F.Supp.2d at 770 (citing Grant Thornton v. Windsor House, Inc., 57 Ohio St.3d 158, ...

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