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Beaulieu v. Stockwell

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 7, 2018

Allen Beaulieu, individually and d/b/a Allen Beaulieu Photography, Plaintiff,
v.
Clint Stockwell, an individual; Studio 1124, LLC, a Minnesota limited liability company; Thomas Martin Crouse, an individual; Charles Willard “Chuck” Sanvik, an individual, and Does 3 through 7, Defendants.

          Russell M. Spence, Jr., Esq., Parker Daniels Kibort LLC, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Michael L. Puklich, Esq., Neaton & Puklich, P.L.L.P., counsel for Defendants Clint Stockwell and Studio 1124, LLC.

          Edward F. Fox, Esq., Lauren Shoeberl, Esq., and Lewis A. Remele, Jr., Esq., Bassford Remele, counsel for Defendant Charles Willard Sanvik.

          Eva Wood, Esq., Outfront MN, counsel for Defendant Thomas Martin Crouse.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Charles Willard “Chuck” Sanvik's (“Sanvik”) Motion for Summary Judgment.[1] (Doc. No. 164.) Plaintiff Allen Beaulieu individually and d/b/a Allen Beaulieu Photography (“Beaulieu”), alleges that Sanvik is in possession of stolen photographs and that he has conspired to use the stolen photographs to Beaulieu's detriment. Sanvik was not a party to the original lawsuit. (Doc. No. 1 (“Compl.”).) He was added as a defendant approximately one year later pursuant to Beaulieu's Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 47 (“Am. Compl.”).) Beaulieu brings three claims against Sanvik: (1) conversion (Count IV); (2) tortious interference with prospective advantage (Count VII); and (3) injunctive relief (Count III).[2] For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Sanvik's motion and dismisses all counts against him.

         BACKGROUND

         Beaulieu photographed the artist Prince for several years. (Doc. No. 47 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶ 18.) He obtained a Certificate of Copyright Registration in a collection of photos entitled, “Before Purple Rain, Prince 1979-1983” (“Photos”) on November 8, 1984. (Id. ¶ 21, Ex. A (“Copyright”).) The Photos included a combination of 2 ¼” and 35mm photographs, contact sheets, and negatives. (Doc. No. 199 (“ Opp.”) at 7.) In or about 2015, Beaulieu sought to publish the Photos in a book.[3] (Am. Compl. ¶ 27; Doc. No. 171 (“Fox Decl. Ex. B.”) at 70-78.) He collaborated with Defendants Clint Stockwell (“Stockwell”) and Thomas Martin Crouse (“Crouse”) to create the book. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-29.) In or about May 2015, Beaulieu provided Stockwell with a hard drive and CD containing digital copies of his Photos. (Beaulieu Dep. at 162, 206; Fox Decl. Ex. B at 70-78.) In April 2016, Beaulieu, Stockwell, and Crouse completed a production ready, eighth draft of the book using the digital copies of Beaulieu's Photos. (Fox Decl. Ex. A., Beaulieu Dep. at 29, 91-92.) No. original Photos were used to create the book. (Id. at 17-18, 25-26.) Beaulieu sent a copy of the draft to his literary agent, who shared it with a potential publisher. (Id. at 29.)

         After Prince died unexpectedly on April 21, 2016, there was an increased demand for pictures of him.[4] (Am. Compl. ¶ 35.) Shortly after, a low resolution MP4 slideshow (“Slideshow”) and press release with approximately 141 digital copies of Beaulieu's Photos was created to promote Beaulieu's work. (Opp. at 15-16; Doc. No. 172 (“Stockwell Dep.”) at 253-254; Doc. No. 207 (“Fox Supp. Decl.”) ¶ 6(B), Ex. Q. (“Slideshow E-mail”).) The Slideshow E-mail was circulated to at least 12 people, including Defendant Charles Sanvik (“Sanvik”).[5] (Opp. at 1, 15.) The press release included with each Slideshow indicated that Beaulieu holds the full copyright to all of the photographs.[6] Beaulieu alleges that the Slideshow was created and circulated without his knowledge or consent and that it was used to promote more than just the book. (Opp. at 1-2.)

         On May 6, 2016, though, Crouse sent an e-mail to Beaulieu with the Slideshow and press release attached. (Slideshow E-mail.) A separate e-mail from Crouse to Beaulieu shows that Beaulieu was aware of the plan to market his work as early as July 30, 2015. (Fox. Supp. Decl. ¶ 6(A), Exs. O-P.) The marketing plan includes reference to a website to serve as a “virtual gallery, ” social media accounts, video clips of the book and photos for sharing on social media, and a list of media outlets to contact. (Id., Ex. O.) During a deposition, Beaulieu acknowledged receipt of these e-mails. (Id. ¶ 7, Ex. S. at 375-379.) The record also reflects that Beaulieu received an e-mail from a social media company regarding a page featuring his work in July 2016, that he forwarded the e-mail to Crouse, and that Crouse responded by encouraging him to post promotional material on the page. (Doc. No. 204 (“Facebook”) at 1.)

         In May 2016, Stockwell and Crouse agreed to digitally scan all of Beaulieu's original, physical photographs to assist with the increased demand for his work.[7] (Am. Compl. ¶ 42; Opp. at 18-19.) Beaulieu did not create a list, inventory, or archive of his Photos before giving them to Stockwell and Crouse. (Beaulieu Dep. at 42-43, 57.) Beaulieu alleges in both his original and amended complaints that he gave Stockwell and Crouse approximately 3, 000 Photos to scan and return within 2 weeks. (Doc. No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 40; Am. Compl. ¶ 42.) At the motion to dismiss hearing, the number rose to 4, 015. (Doc. No. 140 (“Rule 12 Hearing”) at 31.) Beaulieu subsequently testified that he provided Stockwell and Crouse with approximately 6, 000 Photos.[8] (Beaulieu Dep. at 45.) An initial inventory created after this lawsuit started indicates that Beaulieu gave Stockwell and Crouse 5, 332 of his 2 ¼” Photos. (See Fox Decl. Ex. B at 3 (“Inventory 1”). A subsequent inventory indicates that he gave them 5, 384 of his 2 ¼” Photos. (Doc. No. 193 (“Beaulieu Decl.”) ¶ 59, Ex. 19 (“Inventory 2).)[9] There is no inventory of the 35mm Photos. (Beaulieu Dep. at 153-154.)

         When Stockwell and Crouse failed to return the Photos despite multiple requests, collaboration on the book fell apart. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 51-53.) Beaulieu argues that while in possession of his Photos, Stockwell conspired with Co-Defendants to use them in ways he did not know about or authorize. (Id. at 54-56.) When his Photos remained unreturned after several months, Beaulieu ultimately filed suit on October 24, 2016. (Compl.) Despite the lawsuit, Sanvik attempted to engage Beaulieu by phone, text, and e-mail to express his continued interest in the book project. (Memo. at 9.) He also communicated with Stockwell and Crouse regarding the lawsuit. (Opp. at 25; see also Beeman Decl. ¶ 39, Ex. 39 (“Sanvik E-mail”).) Sanvik maintains that he abandoned the project when his attempts to revive it failed. (Memo at 9.) He also maintains that but for the unsolicited Slideshow E-mail, he never saw nor possessed any of Beaulieu's Photos, and that he has done nothing to interfere with Beaulieu's interest in the Photos. (Id. at 8.)

         On the same day Beaulieu filed his lawsuit, his attorney personally retrieved the Photos from Stockwell's home. (Doc. No. 157 (“Receipt”).) His attorney generated a receipt listing the items he took (e.g., 5 plastic boxes, 2 black cardboard boxes, 85 plastic sleeves), but did not quantify the actual number or type of Photos he removed. (Id.) Beaulieu's attorney delivered the Photos to Beaulieu's home the night he retrieved them. (Beaulieu Dep. at 55-59.) The Photos remained at Beaulieu's home for three months until his attorney collected them to store at his law office. (Id. at 65, 67-69.)

         Beaulieu initially alleged that Stockwell failed to return 5, 170 Photos. (Inventory 1 at 3.) That number increased to 5, 222 missing Photos in Inventory 2. (Inventory 2; Opp. at 1.) The record does not reflect why the number changed. The number 5, 222 is based on Beaulieu's memory and a specific methodology he used to photograph Prince:

I had a very specific methodology for shooting those formal shots [of Prince], and followed that methodology regularly whenever I shot Prince for specific projects. I would always bring what was called a ‘brick' of 2 ¼” rolls of film which would be cellophane packaged together as 20 rolls. Each roll of 2 ¼” film contained 12 shots, so I always knew I would end up with photographs in amounts that would be multiples of 12. 40 rolls, or two bricks, would be used for a very important shoot, like the album artwork sessions. That meant 480 shots would be taken, and 480 photographs would result. 20 rolls would be for moderately important shoots, such as posters. Those would use a single brick of 20 rolls, of 12 shots each, or 240 photographs. The smallest amount of 2 ¼” rolls I would bring to a shoot is 6, which equated to 72 photographs. Prince would never let me shoot less than the entire supply of film that I brought to those shoots, so those totals were uniform calculations, each time I would do a formal studio shooting session with Prince. When I photographed less formal, or live shots, those were almost always done with my 35-millimeter camera, which created negatives of slides of 35mm in size. I did not have a standard shooting practice for these live or informal shoots, so the formula above does not apply to my 35mm photographs.

(Beaulieu Decl. ¶ 5-6 (emphasis in original); see also Beaulieu Dep. At 56, ...


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