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Valencia v. Universal City Studios LLC

United States District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division

December 18, 2014




This case comes before the Court on Defendants’ Universal City Studios LLC and Marc Platt Productions Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint [8] and Request for Oral Argument [10]. After reviewing the record, the Court enters the following Order.


Plaintiff Ereina “Honey Rockwell” Valencia brings this action against Defendants Universal City Studios LLC (“Universal City”) and Marc Platt Productions (“Marc Platt”) (collectively, the “Defendants”) alleging invasions of privacy; fraud, false advertising, and unfair competition; and trademark dilution. Plaintiff alleges diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 as the basis for this Court’s subject matter jurisdiction.[1] Because this matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true the allegations in Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint [5].

Plaintiff is a hip hop dancer and dance teacher who has performed under the stage name “Honey Rockwell” since 1994. Plaintiff, a native of the Bronx and of Hispanic descent, performed and taught dance at various community dance centers and theaters in the Bronx, New York. In addition to performing and teaching hip hop dance in the Bronx, Plaintiff appeared in various international and domestic dance productions; created, produced, and released a music video; and appeared in various dance magazines.

In 2003, Defendants released the film Honey, which chronicles the dreams and struggles of Honey Daniels, a native of the Bronx of Hispanic descent who performs and teaches hip hop dance in the Bronx. In 2011, Defendants released the film Honey 2, a sequel in which a hip hop dancer inspired by Honey Daniels achieves success and fame. At the core of her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that these films misappropriated and exploited her persona and life story.

Defendant Universal City[2] owns the copyrights and exclusive rights under copyright in Honey and Honey 2 (collectively, the “Honey films”). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants appropriated Plaintiff’s name, picture, likeness, and identity through their release of the Honey films. In support, Plaintiff points to the following facts: 1) Plaintiff assumed the stage name of “Honey”[3]in 1994; 2) both Plaintiff and “Honey Daniels” are Hispanic women; (3) both teach hip hop dance in the Bronx and appear in hip hop music videos; and (4) both were affiliated with dance studios the Bronx Dance Theater and Hunts Point. Plaintiff further alleges that a producer for the film was notified of “Honey Daniels’s” similarity to Plaintiff. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that she has been approached and identified as the dancer depicted in Honey and on one occasion was contacted to appear at a movie release party as “the real [H]oney.” Plaintiff claims that these similarities and alleged confusion has damaged her personal brand as dancer. Plaintiff alleges that it appears that Plaintiff has copied the likeness of Defendants’ character rather than vice versa, and that Defendants’ actions have thus undermined her reputation and the value of her name and image.

Plaintiff filed suit on February 21, 2014 and amended her Complaint on April 3, 2014. The Amended Complaint asserts seven claims. Count I alleges commercial appropriation and relief for right of publicity violations. Count II alleges intrusion upon Plaintiff’s seclusion and solitude. Count III alleges deceptive trade practices under O.C.G.A. § 10-1-372. Count IV alleges false advertising and unfair competition under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) and O.C.G.A. § 10-1-390. Count V alleges fraud and unfair competition under O.C.G.A. § 23-2-55. Count VI alleges trademark dilution in violation of O.C.G.A. § 10-1-451(B). Count VII alleges unjust enrichment. Plaintiff seeks actual and punitive damages, a disgorgement of Defendants’ profits, costs, and attorneys’ fees.

Defendants have since filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety [8] and Plaintiff responded [13]. The Court now considers Defendants’ motion.


I. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” While this pleading standard does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In order to withstand a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A complaint is plausible on its face when the plaintiff pleads factual content necessary for the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the conduct alleged. Id.

At the motion to dismiss stage, “all-well pleaded facts are accepted as true, and the reasonable inferences therefrom are construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Bryant v. Avado Brands, Inc., 187 F.3d 1271, 1273 n.1 (11th Cir. 1999). However, the same does not apply to legal conclusions set forth in the complaint. Sinaltrainal v. Coca-Cola Co., 578 F.3d 1252, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Furthermore, the court does not “accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

“The district court generally must convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment if it considers materials outside the complaint.” D.L. Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1275-76 (11th Cir. 2005); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). However, documents attached to a complaint are considered part of the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c). Documents “need not be physically attached to a pleading to be incorporated by reference into it; if the document’s contents are alleged in a complaint and no party questions those contents, [the court] may consider such a document, ” provided it is central to the plaintiff’s claim. D.L. Day, 400 F.3d at 1276. At the motion to dismiss phase, the Court may also consider “a document attached to a motion to dismiss . . . if the attached document is (1) central to the plaintiff’s claim and (2) undisputed.” Id. (citing Horsley v. Feldt, 304 F.3d 1125, 1134 (11th Cir. 2002)). “‘Undisputed’ means that the authenticity of the document is not challenged.” Id.

In this case, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants arising out of Defendants production and marketing of the films Honey and Honey 2 as stated in the Background section, supra. Using the framework articulated ...

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