District Court Finds Personal Jurisdiction Over Canadian Production Company with California Subsidiary

The World in U.S. Courts: Summer 2015 - Personal Jurisdiction/Forum Non Conveniens

Hendricks v. New Video Channel Am., LLC, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, June 8, 2015

Hendricks sued Fortier, a television producer, and Fortier's Canadian production company, Temple Street Productions, Inc. ("TSPI"), for federal copyright infringement and breach of implied contract under California law. In 2004, Hendricks submitted a screenplay to Fortier and was later informed that Fortier and TSPI had decided not to acquire rights to it. Nine years later, Hendricks' discovered that BBC America was airing a new television series produced by Fortier and TSPI, called "Orphan Black," which allegedly had "the same, unusual core copyrightable expression as [his] Screenplay." TSPI and Fortier moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction.

The District Court in Los Angeles observed that "general" jurisdiction could only be based on a finding that the defendant was "at home" in the district, and that this was clearly not the case as to either defendant: Fortier is a Canadian citizen and TSPI is both incorporated and had its principal place of business in Canada. However, TSPI's wholly-owned subsidiary, TSP(U.S.), is incorporated under California law. TSPI calls TSP(U.S.) its "LA office" and TSPI's website lists two addresses with one location in California and one in Canada. TSP(U.S.) is also controlled by the individuals who control TSPI, and both TSP(U.S.) and TSPI are in the same business of television and film production. The Court concluded that these facts were sufficient to indicate that TSP itself should be deemed "at home" in California and thus subject to general personal jurisdiction in the State. This is one of the few court decisions finding general personal jurisdiction through the maintenance of a U.S. subsidiary where the subsidiary was not found to be the "alter ego" of the parent.

The Court also found that specific personal jurisdiction over the defendants existed because the claims arose out of the defendants' "purposeful contacts" with California. The Court observed that different tests for jurisdiction are used based on whether a claim sounded in breach of contract or intentional tort: For contract claims, the question is whether the defendant engaged in "purposeful availment" of a forum's laws in connection with entry into the contract; for intentional torts, the question by contrast is whether the defendant "purposefully directed" its activities towards the forum. Because breach of contract and copyright infringement claims were both presented, the Court concluded that it would apply both tests, and ultimately found both to be satisfied. In so concluding, the Court relied principally on the following allegations and evidence: Fortier, acting on behalf of TSPI, traveled specifically to California to "pitch" Orphan Black to broadcasters and discuss the series with TSPI's California agent; TSPI engaged, through subsidiaries and part-owners, in a "coordinated plan to distribute" the series in the United States, and specifically in California; and TSPI's Website lists TSP(U.S.)'s California address and telephone number at the bottom of the page that promotes Orphan Black as "Content" of "Temple Street Productions," thus associating TSPI's "LA office" with the Series.

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