Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Entertainment & Sports Law
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In 144 years of the Kentucky Derby, only one horse to cross the finish line first had been disqualified. No winning horse had ever been disqualified for misconduct during the race itself. In 2019, at the 145th Derby, “Maximum Security,” the horse that finished first, was not declared the winner. He would come in last, based on the stewards’ call that Maximum Security committed fouls by impeding the progress of other horses. His owners, the Wests, were not awarded the Derby Trophy, an approximate $1.5 million purse, and potentially far greater financial benefits from owning a stallion that won the Derby.They filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the individual stewards, the individual members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, an independent state agency, and the Commission, claiming that the regulation that gave the stewards authority to disqualify Maximum Security is unconstitutionally vague.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The decision to disqualify Maximum Security was not a “final order[] of an agency” under KRS 13B.140(1) and is not subject to judicial review. The owners had no constitutionally-protected right. Kentucky law provides that “the conduct of horse racing, or the participation in any way in horse racing, . . . is a privilege and not a personal right; and ... may be granted or denied by the racing commission or its duly approved representatives.” View "West v. Kentucky Horse Racing Commission" on Justia Law

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In 1960, the Everly Brothers (Don and Phil) recorded, released, and copyrighted "Cathy’s Clown" and two other songs (the Compositions), granting the copyrights to Acuff-Rose. The original copyrights listed Phil and Don as authors; both received royalties. They were both credited as authors of Cathy’s Clown in 1961 and 1975 awards. They took joint credit for authoring the song in a 1972 television interview. In a 1980 “Release and Assignment,” Phil agreed to release to Don all of his rights to the Compositions, including “every claim of every nature by him as to the compositions of said songs.” Don subsequently received all royalty payments and public credit as the author; Acuff-Rose changed its business records to reflect Don as sole author. Licenses and credits for Cathy’s Clown and a 1988 copyright renewal listed Don as the only author. Both brothers nonetheless made public statements continuing to credit Phil as a co-author. In 2011, Don sought to execute his 17 U.S.C. 304(c) right to termination to regain copyright ownership from Acuff-Rose, claiming exclusive copyright ownership. Phil exercised termination rights as to other compositions, in 2007 and 2012, but never attempted to terminate any grant related to the 1960 Compositions.After Phil’s 2014 death, his children filed notices of termination as to the 1960 Grants, seeking to regain Phil’s rights to Cathy’s Clown. In 2016, they served a notice of termination as to Phil’s 1980 Assignment to Don. The district court granted Don summary judgment, finding that the claim of Phil’s co-authorship was barred by the statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding a genuine factual dispute as to whether Don expressly repudiated Phil’s co-authorship, and thus triggered the statute of limitations, no later than 2011. View "Everly v. Everly" on Justia Law

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Higgins refereed an Elite Eight game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 2017. The close contest between the Kentucky Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels ended when the Tar Heels scored with less than a second on the clock. Kentucky’s coach thought the referees, Higgins in particular, had disfavored his team. Higgins’ roofing business suffered losses after he became the target of an online campaign orchestrated by Kentucky fans who pinned the loss on Higgins. Higgins sued Kentucky Sports Radio and some of its contributors, alleging that their post-game coverage incited the harassment.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The First Amendment safeguards the radio station’s right to comment on Higgins’ performance and the fans’ reactions to it, even it "might have exercised their First Amendment rights more responsibly." Kentucky Sports Radio commented on a matter of public concern. Speech that does not “specifically advocate” for listeners to take unlawful action does not constitute incitement. Kentucky Sports Radio knew or should have known, the volatility of the situation but the station did more to fan the flames of discontent than to extinguish them. "The Constitution protects that choice. A conscience must do the rest." Merely repeating potentially false reviews generated by other users may be in bad taste but cannot by itself constitute defamation. View "Higgins v. Kentucky Sports Radio, LLC" on Justia Law

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Two former players for the St. Marys (Ohio) Memorial High School Football Team brought claims for federal Title IX violations and state-law intentional infliction of emotional distress against their coach, Frye. The players claim that Frye harassed them by using numerous derogatory terms—most notably, the term “pussy”—with the intent to insult (and presumably to motivate) the two in front of their teammates. The plaintiffs also sued the school board, superintendent, and athletic director for failing to address Frye’s conduct. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. As a matter of decency, Frye’s conduct was distasteful and offensive to many but as a matter of law, his conduct did not constitute sex-based discrimination, in violation of Title IX, nor was it conduct intolerable in a civilized society, in violation of Ohio tort law. Frye did not make sexual advances or act out of sexual desire. Frye was not motivated by general hostility to the presence of men. Frye did not treat men and women differently in a mixed-sex environment. View "Lininger v. St. Marys City School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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Gold Forever, a music publishing company solely owned by Holland, has agreements with various artists entitling it to half of the royalties collected for the sale and performance of those artists’ work. Holland was a Motown artist and co-wrote several famous songs. His music forms some, but not all, of Gold’s catalog. BMI and Universal license others to use Gold’s music; they collect and remit the royalties to Gold. Holland owes millions of dollars to the IRS in taxes, interest, and penalties. In 2012, the IRS served notices of levy to BMI and Universal, identifying Gold as the “alter ego/nominee transferee of" Holland and requiring the companies to remit to the IRS property and rights to property that they were obligated to pay Gold. Beginning on October 6, 2016, the companies remitted $967,140.76 to the IRS. Gold made requests for refunds to the IRS within nine months. On December 6, 2017, Gold filed a wrongful levy action for the funds remitted beginning on October 6, 2016, alleging that most, if not all, of the money belongs either to Gold or to artists other than Holland. The court dismissed the suit as untimely. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The statute of limitations for a wrongful levy action cannot begin until there has been a levy that attaches to the property at issue. Notices of levy in 2012 did not constitute levies on royalties generated after the notices were served, so the statute of limitations did not bar the wrongful levy action. View "Gold Forever Music, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Detroit residents voted to allow the school district to increase property taxes “for operating expenses.“ In 2013, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) announced its intent to capture some of that tax revenue to fund the construction of Little Caesars Arena for the Red Wings hockey team. In 2016, the DDA revised its plan to allow the Pistons basketball team to relocate to Arena. The Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (DBRA) agreed to contribute to the $56.5 million expenditure, including reimbursing construction costs that private developers had already advanced. The project is largely complete. Plaintiffs requested that the school board place on the November 2017 ballot a question asking voters to approve or disapprove of the agencies' use of tax revenue for the Pistons relocation. The board held a special meeting but did not put the question on the ballot. Plaintiffs filed suit. Count VIII sought a declaratory judgment that the board had authority to place the question on the ballot. Count IX sought a writ of mandamus ordering the board to place it on the ballot. The court dismissed Counts VIII and IX, noting that Plaintiffs could have filed suit in 2013. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Plaintiffs lack Article III standing. Failure to place Plaintiffs’ question on the ballot affects all Detroit voters equally; they raised only a generally available grievance about government. Michigan statutes do not give Detroit residents the right to void a Tax Increment Financing plan by public referendum, so a referendum would not redress Plaintiffs’ injury. View "Davis v. Detroit Public School Community District" on Justia Law

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Upon receiving an anonymous tip, the Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) investigated allegations of race-fixing, involving gamblers and harness-racing drivers. Plaintiffs, MGCB-licensed harness drivers, attended an administrative hearing but declined to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The MGCB immediately suspended their licenses, based on a requirement that license applicants “cooperate in every way . . . during the conduct of an investigation, including responding correctly, to the best of his or her knowledge, to all questions pertaining to racing.” MGCB later issued exclusion orders banning the drivers from all state race tracks and denied Plaintiffs’ applications for 2011, 2012, and 2013 licenses. Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violations of their procedural due process and Fifth Amendment rights. The Sixth Circuit held that the defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity. The exclusion orders were issued about 30 months before a post-exclusion hearing; Plaintiffs identified a violation of a clearly established right. Under specific conditions, a public employee “may rightfully refuse to answer unless and until he is protected at least against the use of his compelled answers.” The Supreme Court has held that if a state wishes to punish an employee for invoking that right, “States must offer to the witness whatever immunity is required to supplant the privilege and may not insist that the employee ... waive such immunity.” Both rights were clearly established at the time of the violation. View "Moody v. Michigan Gaming Control Board" on Justia Law

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Kibler, a disc jockey, uses turntables and others’ vocals to produce music containing jazz and funk elements. He released several albums under the name “DJ LOGIC” since 1999, but currently has no record deal. Kibler registered “DJ LOGIC” as a trademark in 2000, allowed the registration to lapse, and re-registered it in 2013. He has also been known as “LOGIC.” Hall has performed under the name “LOGIC” since 2009. In 2012, Kibler’s attorney sent Hall’s management company and booking agent an email ordering them to stop using the name “LOGIC” and to recall any product or advertisement that did, claiming infringement on Kibler’s mark. Hall’s company applied to register “LOGIC” as a trademark. Kibler sued, alleging trademark infringement, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a); breach of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act; unfair competition under Michigan law; and trademark dilution under the Lanham Act. In 2014, defendants delayed Hall’s tour and first album release due to ongoing settlement negotiations that ultimately collapsed. Defendants then released the album, which sold over 170,000 copies. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Kibler did not provide evidence sufficient to find that relevant consumers are likely to confuse the sources of his and Hall’s products or that Hall diluted Kibler’s mark. View "Kibler v. Hall" on Justia Law

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Fakhouri, a resident of Michigan who uses a wheelchair, traveled to Tennessee for a vacation in summer, 2012. She visited Ober Gatlinburg, a ski resort that also has a year-round amusement park, restaurant, lounge, and shopping center alongside the ski paths and mountain trails. To bring visitors to and from the ski area and associated attractions, Ober Gatlinburg operates a tramway, which Fakhouri rode without incident up the mountain when she arrived at the site. When she tried to enter the tram for her return trip, her wheelchair caught on the tram, breaking one of the wheels and causing her leg to buckle underneath the chair. She sought medical treatment for injuries to her leg and neck, and she continues to experience swelling, weakness, poor blood flow, and discoloration in the affected leg. The district court rejected her negligence suit on summary judgment, relying on a Tennessee statute that precludes liability for ski resort operators under certain conditions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Fakhouri’s lawsuit was precluded because she was a “skier or passenger,” Ober Gatlinburg is a “ski area operator,” and her injuries “aris[e] out of” her “use of any passenger tramways associated with Alpine or downhill skiing.” View "Fakhouri v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc." on Justia Law

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Fans of the musical group Insane Clown Posse, who call themselves “Juggalos,” frequently display, on person or property, insignia representative of the band. In 2011, the National Gang Intelligence Center—an informational center operating under the Federal Bureau of Investigation—released a congressionally-mandated report on gang activity that included a section on Juggalos. The report identified Juggalos as a “hybrid gang” and relayed information about criminal activity committed by Juggalo subsets. Juggalos allege that they subsequently suffered violations of their First and Fifth Amendment constitutional rights at the hands of state and local law enforcement officers who were motivated to commit the injuries in question due to the identification of Juggalos as a criminal gang. They filed suit against the Department of Justice and FBI under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Declaratory Judgment Act. The SIxth Circuit reversed dismissal for lack of standing. The Juggalos sufficiently alleged that the reputational harm and chill was caused by the 2011 Report and, where reputational harm and chill will likely be alleviated by the relief sought, redressability exists. View "Parsons v. Dep't of Justice" on Justia Law