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Design Basics, LLC v. Forrester Wehrle Homes, Inc.

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

March 27, 2018

Design Basics, LLC, Plaintiff
v.
Forrester Wehrle Homes, Inc., et al., Defendants

          ORDER

          James G. Carr Sr. U.S. District Judge

         This is a copyright-infringement case.

         Plaintiff Design Basics, LLC (DB), creates, markets, and licenses architectural plans for single-family homes. (Doc. 58 at ¶1). It contends that defendants - Forrester Wehrle Homes, Inc.; Wehrle Development, Ltd.; and their principals Jeffrey, Richard, and Joseph Wehrle (collectively, FWH) - infringed its copyrights in twenty-three architectural plans. (Id. at ¶¶35-36).

         Pending is the defendants' partial motion for summary judgment on statute-of-limitations grounds. (Doc. 81).

         Relying on the Supreme Court's statement in Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., __ U.S. __, 134 S.Ct. 1962, 1968 (2014), that the three-year limitations period for infringement claims creates a “three-year look-back, ” FWH argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on all of DB's claims to the extent they seek damages for any infringing acts that occurred more than three years before the filing of this suit.

         For the following reasons, I deny the motion.

         Background[1]

         The relationship between DB and FWH dates back to 1993, when DB licensed two of its architectural plans - the Ashton and the Albany - to FWH. (Doc. 58 at ¶37). Since that time, DB, whether on its own initiative or at the request of FWH, mailed at least fifteen of its catalogs containing additional architectural designs to FWH. (Id.; Doc. 83-3 at ¶29).

         In March, 2013, while DB was preparing “marketing efforts” in Ohio, the company “became aware that [FWH] had violated its copyrights in one or more distinct ways.” (Doc. 58 at ¶35). Some evidence in the record suggests that FWH created the allegedly infringing homes between 2000 and 2007. (Doc. 81 at 4). DB learned of these alleged infringements when its “senior designer, ” Carl Cuozzo, visited FWH's website and concluded that FWH's designs infringed DB's copyrighted plans. (Doc. 83-3 at ¶4).

         DB filed this suit on April 6, 2015. (Doc. 1).

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 where the opposing party fails to show the existence of an essential element for which that party bears the burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The movant must initially show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323.

         Once the movant meets that burden, the “burden shifts to the nonmoving party [to] set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). Rule 56 “requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the [unverified] pleadings” and submit admissible evidence supporting its position. Celotex, supra, 477 U.S. at 324.

         I accept the non-movant's evidence as true and construe all evidence in its favor. Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Tech. Servs., Inc., 504 U.S. 451, 456 (1992).

         Discussion

         The Copyright Act provides that “[n]o civil action shall be maintained under the provisions of this title unless it is commenced within three years after the claim accrued.” 17 U.S.C. § 507(b).

         Under controlling Sixth Circuit case law, a claim for copyright infringement “accrues when a plaintiff knows of the potential violation or is chargeable with such knowledge.” Roger Miller Music, Inc. v. Sony/ATV Publishing, LLC, 477 F.3d 383, 390 (6th Cir. 2007); accord Mitchell v. Capitol Records, LLC, __ F.Supp.3d __, 2017 WL ...


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