Class 1.The Course of the Course; 50,000 Foot View: Where and How to Start a Lawsuit
Read CopyPak Assignment One (pp. 3-7); Rules 1-3, 4(c), 4(k)(1), 4(m), 8(a), 10(b), 18.
A lawsuit “is commenced by filing a complaint with the court.” FRCP 3. The complaint must also be served on the defendant or defendants within 90 days after the date of filing (FRCP 4(m)).
The plaintiff must think carefully about whom to sue and what claims to bring. The Rules provide for what is known as “liberal joinder,” meaning that it is pretty easy to bring together multiple plaintiffs and/or multiple defendants, and it is also pretty easy to join together multiple claims. Indeed, a plaintiff may be required to join together several claims or risk losing them under principles of claim preclusion (which we will discuss briefly in a few days and more extensively at the end of the semester).
The plaintiff must also be careful to sue in a court that can hear her lawsuit. The lawsuit can be filed only in a court that has personal jurisdiction over the defendant, subject-matter jurisdiction over the matter, and venue (which can be determined by the parties and/or the matter). According to the complaint, what is the basis for jurisdiction and venue in Williams v. Bridgeport Music? If there are multiple courts that have jurisdiction and venue, what practical factors might make the plaintiff choose one court over another?
Even though this case is filed in federal court, state boundaries are still relevant. Federal courts usually have personal jurisdiction over defendants based on state boundaries (you will often here this stated as “federal courts take the jurisdiction of the state in which they sit”). FRCP 4(k)(1)(a).
A plaintiff must also think carefully about what to say in her complaint. Notice that Rule 8(a) requires only a “short and plain statement” of the plaintiff’s claim. Reading the complaint in the Blurred Lines case, you can see that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke included more than just a short and plain statement. Why would they do that? Are they speaking to anyone other than the court and the other parties?
Notice also that Rule 10(b) requires the plaintiff to use separate numbered paragraphs and to limit each paragraph as narrowly as possible to “a single set of circumstances.” Why require this?
Robin Thicke and Pharrell filed a claim for “declaratory relief.” This means what they seek is a declaration from the court that their songs do not infringe on the copyrights of the defendants’ songs. When someone brings a claim for declaratory relief, she is making herself the plaintiff in the case in which she otherwise would be the defendant – such questions would often be asked and answered in a case by the copyright holders against Thicke and Pharrell for copyright infringement. Why go ahead and file the suit for declaratory relief, rather than waiting to be sued for copyright infringement? Could there be practical advantages to being the plaintiff rather than the defendant?