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George v. Leighton

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 10, 2016

DAVID GEORGE, Plaintiff,
v.
BONNIE LEIGHTON, Real Estate Broker, Southwest Realty, BARBARA SMITH, Broker / Owner Southwest Realty, COLORADO REAL ESTATE NETWORK, INC., and JOYCE ANN WAYMAN, Defendants.

          ORDER

          R. Brooke Jackson United States District Judge

         David George moves to vacate an order entered by the Court granting a stipulated dismissal with prejudice of his claims against defendant Joyce Ann Wayman. For the reasons described in this Order, the motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         David George is a semi-retired photographer. In 2011 he apparently provided a number of photographic images of property in Cortez, Colorado to several real estate brokers, including Southwest Realty. In 2012 the images remained on Southwest's computer, but Southwest no longer had his permission to use them. Nevertheless, and over his objection, a Southwest broker named Bonnie Leighton used the images when it listed a property owned by Joyce Ann Wayman. Therefore, Mr. George filed this suit seeking injunctive relief and damages for violation of federal copyright laws. He named Ms. Leighton; Southwest's owner Barbara Smith; a company called Colorado Real Estate Network, Inc. which operated a multiple listing service; and Ms. Wayman as defendants. See Complaint, ECF No. 1, at ¶¶ 9-27.

         Of particular relevance to the present motion, Mr. George claimed that thousands of his images were on a hard drive (sometimes referred to in this case as a “wallet drive”) that Ms. Wayman “physically removed . . . from the Plaintiff's control.” Id. at ¶28. He alleged that Ms. Wayman “acknowledged taking the disk however stated it was in error and would return the hard drive so the images could be recovered.” Id. at ¶29. However, she did not return the hard drive and did not respond to his attempts to contact her. Id.

         In her Answer Ms. Wayman asserted, among other things, that she owned the hard drive; that she used it primarily for music; that Mr. George had sent the images to Ms. Leighton or Ms. Smith, and she believed she that had permission to use them; and that she did not know that Mr. George had put the images on her hand drive until sometime after he had done so. ECF No. 19 at ¶¶6, 8.

         Mr. George was representing himself when he filed the case, but he later requested that the Court appoint counsel to represent him. Magistrate Judge Watanabe granted the motion, meaning that the Clerk of Court would attempt to find a volunteer lawyer who would represent Mr. George through the Court's civil pro bono program. A volunteer lawyer stepped forward and was appointed to represent Mr. George on November 4, 2015. ECF No. 60.

         By approximately one month after the pro bono lawyer entered his appearance the parties had negotiated settlements. Between December 18 and December 24, 2015 stipulations of dismissal with prejudice executed by Mr. George and all defendants were filed. ECF Nos. 68, 69 and 70. The stipulations are all similar, but I focus on the Wayman stipulation because it is now at issue. It is short and straightforward, providing in pertinent part that “all claims and counterclaims in this action made by Plaintiff against Defendant Wayman and made by Defendant Wayman against Plaintiff are hereby dismissed WITH PREJUDICE, subject to the terms of that certain agreement between them entitled “SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT” dated December 16, 2015.” ECF No. 70. A copy of the Settlement Agreement was not filed with the Court. The Court entered orders granting the stipulations and dismissing the case with prejudice on December 28, 2015. ECF Nos. 71, 72, and 73.

         The case is before the Court again because approximately six months after the case was dismissed Mr. George, once again representing himself pro se, filed the pending motion. He asks the Court to vacate its order dismissing the case as against Ms. Wayman and then either to vacate or enforce his settlement agreement and impose certain other relief. ECF No. 76. The essence of it is that Ms. Wayman to relinquish the hard drive pursuant to their settlement agreement, but he later discovered that his images had been deleted. Id. at 1. He wants the Court to order Ms. Wayman to produce the images, to sanction her, and to award damages to him. He claims that during a scheduling conference on September 17, 2015 the court (Magistrate Judge Watanabe) informed him that any destruction or deletion of information could result in serious sanctions, and he states that this Court should apply the same standard to Ms. Wayman. Id. at 2.

         Ms. Wayman filed a response in which she emphasizes that the case was dismissed with prejudice, and that she complied with the settlement agreement. ECF No. 80. She again suggests that Mr. George placed the images on the “wallet drive, ” unbeknownst to her. Id. at 3. Although the wallet drive was hers, not Mr. George's, she agreed to give it to him in order to accomplish a settlement. Id. at 4. She denies that she removed any images from the hard drive. Id. at 5. In any event, she made “no independent promise, guarantee or warranty that anything in particular would be on that drive.” Id. She also advises the Court that Mr. George has since filed a separate action against her in Florida. Id. at 6.

         In reply Mr. George emphasizes that the ownership of the hard drive is not important. ECF No. 83 at 1. Rather, the problem concerns content missing from the hard drive, and states that Ms. Wayman violated the court's instructions that were given at the scheduling conference. Id. at 2. He states, “The intent of the Plaintiff was for a full return of all images and property as the defendant was instructed.” Id.

         FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

         Initially, although neither party raises it, I have some question about the Court's jurisdiction to provide any relief to Mr. George. He asserted jurisdiction in this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question) and 28 U.S.C. § 1338 (patents, copyrights, trademarks and unfair competition). ECF No. 1 at 2. But his copyright claim was concluded when the case was dismissed with prejudice. The issues presented now are contract issues. I doubt that there would be ancillary jurisdiction to interpret or enforce the parties' settlement agreement at this point. See Morris v. City of Hobart, 39 F.3d 1105, 1110-12 (10th Cir. 1994).

         I note, however, that Ms. Wayman was served with the original Complaint in Port St. Lucie, Florida. ECF No. 13. “[T]he relevant time period for determining the existence of complete diversity is the time of the filing of the complaint.” Siloam Springs Hotel, LLC v. Century Ins. Co., 781 F.3d 1233, 1239 (10th Cir. 2015). If one were to construe the present dispute as meeting the jurisdictional amount, then there might be diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. However, even assuming jurisdiction exists, I do not find a basis ...


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