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Johnson v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 14, 2017

MARQUES ANDRE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT, INC., TMZ PRODUCTIONS, INC., EHM PRODUCTIONS, INC., TTT WEST COAST, INC., BARSTOOL SPORTS, INC., BET INTERACTIVE, LLC, REAL TIMES MEDIA, LLC, DAILY NEWS, L.P., CHERI MEDIA LLC, INTERACTIVE ONE, LLC, GANNET COMPANY, INC., CBS INTERACTIVE, INC., VIACOM INTERNATIONAL, INC, TOWNSQUARE MEDIA, INC, and IHEARTMEDIA, INC, Defendants.

          Ronald Drescher, RONALD DRESCHER & ASSOCIATES, Wilmington, DE. George Bochetto, Peter R. Bryant, BOCHETTO AND LENTZ, Philadelphia, PA. Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Kelly E. Farnan, Christine Dealy Haynes, Rudolf Koch, RICHARDS, LAYTON & FINGER, PA, Wilmington, DE. Arwen Johnson, Linda M. Burrow, CALDWELL LESLIE & PROCTOR, PC, Los Angeles, CA. Attorneys for Defendants Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., TMZ Productions, Inc., TTT West Coast, Inc., and EHM Productions, Inc.

          Arthur G. Connolly, III, CONNOLLY GALLAGHER LLP, Wilmington, DE. Joel R. Weiner, KATTEN MUCHIN ROSENMAN LLP; Los Angeles, CA Attorneys for Defendant Barstool Sports, Inc.

          Thomas E. Hanson, Jr., MORRIS JAMES LLP, Wilmington, DE. James Rosenfeld, Jaya Kasibhatla, DAVIS WRIGHT TREMAINE LLP, New York, NY Attorneys for Defendant BET Interactive, LLC.

          Thomas E. Hanson, Jr., MORRIS JAMES LLP, Wilmington, DE. Attorney for Defendants Real Times Media, LLC, Daily News, L.P., Interactive One, LLC, Gannet Company, Inc., CBS Interactive, Inc., Viacom International, Inc., and iHeartMedia, Inc.

          Joseph Benedict Cicero, Stephanie S. Habelow, CHIPMAN BROWN CICERO & COLE, LLP, Wilmington, DE. Attorneys for Defendant Cheri Media LLC.

          Stephen B. Brauerman, Sara E. Bussiere, BAYARD, P.A., Wilmington, DE. David J. Margules, Elizabeth A. Sloan, BALLARD SPAHR LLP, Wilmington, DE. Mark I. Bailen, James F. Romoser, BAKER & HOSTETLER LLP, Washington, DC. Attorneys for Defendant Townsquare Media, Inc.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. District Judge

         On March 23, 2016, Plaintiff Marques Andre Johnson ("Plaintiff or "Johnson"), a rap and hip-hop artist, filed a libel and false light invasion of privacy complaint against various media and news outlets ("Defendants"). (D.I. 1) ("Complaint") Plaintiff asserts that Defendants published a story wrongly identifying Plaintiff as the rapper who attempted a gruesome self-mutilation suicide. (Id.) After Defendants filed motions to dismiss the claims for, inter alia, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on August 25, 2016. (D.I. 21) ("Amended Complaint") Defendants subsequently filed motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint on the same bases on which they had earlier moved to dismiss the original Complaint. (D.I. 27, 28, 30, 33) The parties completed briefing on the motions to dismiss the Amended Complaint on November 11, 2016. (D.I. 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43)

         Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by: (1) Defendants BET Interactive, LLC; CBS Interactive, Inc.; Daily News, L.P.; Gannett Company, Inc.; Interactive One, LLC; Real Times Media, LLC; Viacom International, Inc.; and iHeartMedia, Inc. (D.I. 27); (2) Defendants Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.; TMZ Productions, Inc.; EHM Productions, Inc.; and TTT West Coast, Inc. (D.I. 28); (3) Defendant Townsquare Media, Inc. (D.I. 30); and (4) Defendant Cheri Media LLC (D.I. 33). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant all four motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted based on the statute of limitations, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The motions will be denied as moot in all other respects.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         Plaintiff Marques Andre Johnson is a rap and hip-hop artist who performs under the stage name "Andre Roxx." (D.I. 21 at ¶ 2) In 2012, the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan inducted Plaintiff into their affiliate group, the Wu-Tang Killa Beez, boosting Plaintiffs music career, including by allowing him to tour with other members of the Wu-Tang Clan throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico from 2012 through late 2013. (Id. at ¶¶ 3-5, 61-62, 71) Then, however, in March 2014, Plaintiff was arrested, convicted, and incarcerated, ultimately serving 16 months in a Pennsylvania prison. (Id. at ¶ 88)

         Defendants are various corporations owning and operating entertainment news and media sources including, among others, TMZ.com. (Id. at ¶ 22)

         In April 2014, while Plaintiff was incarcerated in Pennsylvania, a different rap artist affiliated with Wu-Tang Clan - similarly named Andre Johnson, but performing under the stage name "Christ Bearer" ("Christ Bearer") - attempted suicide at a party in California by severing his penis and jumping out of a window. (Id. at ¶¶ 101-02) After Christ Bearer's failed suicide attempt, Defendants, on April 16, 2014, reported the story on TMZ.com, wrongly attributing Christ Bearer's actions to Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 105) After this initial publication, the story "spread like wild fire across the internet and on television and radio news." (Id. at ¶ 111) Plaintiff learned of the news on TV and on a CBS radio broadcast the day it was published - April 16, 2014 - while he was in prison in Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶¶ 129-30) "As a result of Defendants' reckless, egregious, and defamatory statements, [Plaintiff] was forced to go into protective custody because other inmates began threatening, harassing and attacking him." (Id. at ¶ 131)

         Since the April 16, 2014 news reports, Plaintiff has been publicly disavowed by the Wu-Tang Clan, unable to book concerts anywhere in the country, and unable to earn a living. (Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 136, 146, 153, 156) Furthermore, Plaintiff has been criticized and humiliated on social media, repeatedly approached and harassed by strangers in public, and rejected by friends and romantic partners, ...


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