United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT
A. Goldsmith United States District Judge
copyright infringement case, Plaintiff Alisa Wolf, Ph.D.,
alleges that Defendants violated the Copyright Remedy
Clarification Act (“Copyright Act”), 17 U.S.C.
§ 511(a), by using her copyrighted written curriculum
without permission or payment. Defendants have filed a motion
for partial summary judgment (Dkt. 18), contending that they
are entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh
Amendment and cannot be held liable for damages under the
Copyright Act. A hearing on the motion was held on July 14,
2016, following which the parties submitted supplemental
briefs on the issue of capacity (Dkts. 23, 24). For the
reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part and denies
in part Defendants' motion.
claims that she authored an original literary work entitled
“Practical Film Vocational Program” before May
10, 2006. Compl. ¶¶ 15, 16 (Dkt. 1). After applying
to the U.S. Copyright Office, Wolf states that she received a
certificate of registration for the written curriculum dated
August 11, 2006. Id. ¶ 17. Wolf claims to be
the sole owner of the copyrighted material. Id.
Oakland University is a public university located in
Rochester, Michigan. Defs. Br. at 4 (Dkt. 18); Pl. Resp. at 2
(Dkt. 19); Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4. The Human Development
and Child Studies Department within Oakland University's
School of Education and Human Services created a Center for
Autism. Defs. Br. at 4. The Center provides innovative
research programs for teachers and programming for
individuals and their families living with autism spectrum
disorder (“ASD”) under the acronym OUCARES.
Id.; Compl. ¶¶ 5, 21, 25. Defendant
Kristin Rohrbeck is an employee of Oakland University and has
been the director of OUCARES since May 2015. Defs. Br. at 7;
Pl. Resp. at 2; Compl. ¶ 7. From October 2012 to April
2015, Rohrbeck was the program coordinator for OUCARES and
reported to the then-director of OUCARES, Defendant Kathleen
Sweeney. Defs. Br. at 7; Pl. Resp. at 2; Compl. ¶ 6.
offers a two-week film camp for adolescents with ASD, as well
as a twenty-week workshop for adults with ASD entitled
“Practical Film Workshop for Adults with Autism.”
Defs. Br. at 5; Compl. ¶¶ 21, 25. In her complaint,
Wolf alleges that Defendants used her copyrighted material in
a number of ways without her permission in regard to the
camps and workshops, prompting this suit for copyright
infringement. See Compl. ¶¶ 30-45.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court “shall
grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). When evaluating a summary judgment motion,
credibility judgments and weighing of the evidence are
prohibited. Rather, the evidence should be viewed in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Thus, the
facts and any inferences that can be drawn from those facts
must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
Biegas v. Quickway Carriers, Inc., 573 F.3d 365, 374
(6th Cir. 2009).
defendant moves for summary judgment, it “bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of
‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
“To withstand summary judgment, the nonmoving party
must present sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of
material fact.” Humenny v. Genex Corp., 390
F.3d 901, 904 (6th Cir. 2004). The nonmoving party “may
not ‘rely on the hope that the trier of fact will
disbelieve the movant's denial of a disputed fact'
but must make an affirmative showing with proper evidence in
order to defeat the motion.” Alexander v.
CareSource, 576 F.3d 551, 558 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Street v. J.C. Bradford & Co., 886 F.2d 1472,
1479 (6th Cir. 1989)). A mere scintilla of evidence is
insufficient; rather, “there must be evidence on which
the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].”
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.
immunity is the privilege of the sovereign not to be sued
without its consent.” Va. Office for Prot. &
Advocacy v. Stewart, 563 U.S. 247, 253 (2011). The
Eleventh Amendment, which specifically bars “any suit
in law or equity, commended or prosecuted against one of the
United States by Citizens of another State, ” U.S.
Const. amend. XI, confirmed “the structural
understanding that States entered the Union with their
sovereign immunity intact, ” Stewart, 563 U.S.
at 253. The doctrine of sovereign immunity extends to suits
brought against a state by one of its own citizens, Hanz
v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 15 (1890), and it applies to
state agencies, as well as state officials sued in their
official capacities, Will v. Mich. Dep't of State
Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989); Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985).
immunity applies to Oakland University, because it is a state
institution of higher education, having been established
under the Michigan Constitution and Michigan statutory law.
Mich. Const. art. 8, § 6; Mich. Comp. Laws §
390.151; Hawthorne-Burdine v. Oakland Univ., 158
F.Supp.3d 586, 598 (E.D. Mich. 2016); Brooks v. Oakland
Univ., No. 13-10701, 2013 WL 6191051, at *2 (E.D. Mich.
Nov. 26, 2013). It also applies to Sweeney and Rohrbeck,
as employees of Oakland University, to the extent they were
sued in their official capacities. Will, 491 U.S. at
71. Therefore, unless the State of Michigan has waived its
sovereign immunity, or Congress has validly abrogated it
under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, this Court will
not entertain Wolf's suit. Stewart, 563 U.S. at
254; Russell v. Lundergan-Grimes, 784 F.3d 1037,
1046 (6th Cir. 2015) (sovereign immunity, guaranteed under
the Eleventh Amendment, “deprives federal courts of
subject-matter jurisdiction when a citizen sues his own State
unless the State waives its immunity of Congress abrogates
that sovereign immunity”).
puts forth three arguments in support of her position that
Defendants are not entitled to sovereign immunity: (i)
Congress abrogated sovereign immunity for violations of the
Copyright Act; (ii) Oakland University waived sovereign
immunity under the Michigan Governmental Tort Liability Act,
Mich. Comp. Laws § 691.1410, et seq.; and (iii)
Sweeney and Rohrbeck were sued in their individual, not
official, capacities. The Court considers each in turn.
The Copyright Remedy Clarification Act and Abrogation of
whether Congress abrogated state sovereign immunity turns on
two questions: (i) whether Congress “unequivocally
expressed its intent to abrogate the immunity, ” and
(ii) whether Congress “acted pursuant to a valid
exercise of power.” Florida Prepaid
Postsecondary Educ. Expense Bd. v. Coll. Sav. Bank,
527 U.S. 627, 635 (1999). The language of the Copyright Act
is clear and undoubtedly expressed Congress's intent to
abrogate state sovereign immunity:
Any State . . . shall not be immune, under the Eleventh
Amendment of the Constitution of the United States or under
any other doctrine of sovereign immunity, from suit in
Federal court . . . for a violation of ...