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Charles L. Sims v. Viacom

January 31, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.


Before the Court for disposition is the MOTION TO DISMISS with brief in support, filed by Defendant Viacom (Document Nos. 8 and 9), the BRIEF IN OPPOSITION filed by Plaintiff, Charles L. Sims (Document No. 17), and the REPLY BRIEF filed by Defendant (Document No. 20). The Motion is now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

Factual Background

As the law requires, at this stage of the proceeding all disputed facts and inferences are to be resolved in favor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party.

In 2004, Plaintiff, Charles Sims ("Sims") developed and created an idea for a reality television series called "Ghetto Fabulous," "which would feature a competition between uncouth urban women." See Exhibit 6. He officially registered and recorded written documentation of this concept with the Writer's Guild of America on February 9, 2004. In the months following the registration, Sims met with Allison Jordan ("Jordan") to further develop his concept into a formal proposal or "treatment," which would fully outline their idea for a reality television show. Following this meeting, on April 8, 2004, Sims and Jordan amended the Writer's Guild registration to add Jordan as a co-writer and attached the formal treatment. As described in the treatment, "Ghetto Fabulous" was a "show featuring women in a half hour reality television series, placing the 'contestants' through a series of challenges and ultimately declaring a single winner." Complaint, at ¶ 6.

Jordan submitted the treatment to various television companies, cable companies, producers, directors and actors she knew, including Viacom which provided a "Submission Release" to Jordan. Jordan signed the Submission Release on behalf of herself and Sims.

Over the next two years, Jordan "pitched" the show to Viacom. Viacom allegedly considered the pitch, and after "two years of discussion," allegedly told Jordan that it was "ready to make an offer," but "had to wait as there was a change of hands" at the network which was considering the show. Id. at ¶ 10. Viacom never made an offer to Jordan and/or Sims.

In April 2007, the reality television show "Charm School" debuted on Viacom's VH1 network. Complaint at ¶ 12. On May 21, 2007, Sims wrote a document entitled "Show Comparisons" which compared "Charm School" to "Ghetto Fabulous" in which he concluded that the two shows were "the same."

On January 23, 2009, Sims and Jordan initiated a lawsuit against Viacom and two other companies by writ of summons in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. Six months later, Sims and Jordan filed a verified complaint in which they contended that Viacom "stole 'Ghetto Fabulous,' " and asserted claims for breach of express and implied contracts, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and conversion. Defendants timely removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and then moved to dismiss the claims.

The district court granted the motion to dismiss the fraud and conversation claims, holding inter alia, that the conversion claim was preempted by the federal Copyright Act. The court permitted the remaining claims to proceed to discovery. Following the close of discovery, Viacom moved for summary judgment in which it argued that the claims for breach of express and implied contracts were barred by the Submission Release which had been signed by Jordan. The district court found that Jordan had signed the Submission Release "on behalf of herself and Sims," and granted summary judgment in favor of Viacom.

On June 7, 2011, Sims, pro se, filed the instant three-count Complaint against Viacom, Inc., ("Viacom") in which he alleges Copyright Infringement, violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA"), and unjust enrichment. The Complaint basically repeats the same allegations and identical facts as those alleged by Sims in his prior lawsuit although in the instant lawsuit he attempts to apply three new legal theories: copyright infringement, an alleged DMCA violation, and unjust enrichment. On June 7, 2011, Attorney Darrell E. Williams entered his appearance on behalf of Sims.

Viacom has filed the instant motion in which it argues that Sims' second lawsuit is "unquestionably barred by the doctrine of res judicata, and in any event, each of his new legal theories fails to state a viable claim as a matter of law." Plaintiff has responded in opposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court agrees with Viacom and the Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiently of the complaint filed by plaintiff. The United States Supreme Court has held that "[a] plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)) (alterations in original).

The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. However, as the Supreme Court made clear in Twombly, the "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The United States Supreme Court has subsequently broadened the scope of this requirement, stating that only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). Thus, after Iqbal, a district court must conduct a two-part analysis when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). First, the Court must separate the factual and legal elements of the claim. Id. Although the Court "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, [it] may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-11. Second, the Court "must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.' In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A ...

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