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Johnson v. New Destiny Christian Center Church, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

August 25, 2017




         In the present motion, Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. 11 (“MTD”).) Plaintiff responded to the MTD on June 7, 2017. (Doc. 20 (“Response”).) For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the MTD is due be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         This case arises from: (1) a copyright infringement action that Defendant Paula White Ministries (“PWM”) initiated against Plaintiff Shirley Jn Johnson (“Johnson”) more than three years ago[1]; and (2) a derivative malicious prosecution action that Johnson initiated against Paula Michelle White (“Ms. White”), Paula Michelle Ministries, Inc. (“PMM”), Defendant New Destiny Christian Center Church, Inc. (“New Destiny”), and Resurrection Life THC, Inc. in 2015.[2]

         A. Copyright Action

         In the Copyright Action, PWM described itself as “a global ministry guided by the God-inspired vision of Paula White[, ] who founded it with a strong desire to see lives transformed for the better through relationship with God.” Copyright Act, Doc. 1, ¶ 1. PWM alleged that it used the Internet, television, radio, literature, and public speaking to communicate its message. Id. Its copyright infringement claims against Johnson were based on allegations that “Johnson knowingly violated federal copyright laws by copying, modifying, and displaying PMW's original and creative works-photographs and videos-on her website for financial gain and without permission or authorization from PWM.” Johnson v. New Destiny Christian Ctr. Church, Inc., No. 6:15-cv-1698-ORL-37GJK, 2017 WL 1093446, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Mar. 23, 2017) (citing the Copyright Action, Doc. 1, ¶¶ 8, 10, 13).[3] Johnson, however, maintained that such allegations were asserted maliciously and in retaliation for having exposed Paula White as a false preacher. Copyright Action, Doc. 16, p. 9. Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Gregory A. Presnell dismissed the case with prejudice, but “advised Johnson that, should she wish to pursue affirmative relief against PWM for malicious prosecution, she could do so by filing a separate complaint.” Johnson, 2017 WL 1093446, at *2 (citing Copyright Action, Doc. 40).

         B. Malicious Prosecution Action

         Pursuant to that advice, Johnson filed an action for malicious prosecution (“Malicious Prosecution Action”) six months later, see Johnson v. New Destiny Christian Ctr. Church, Inc., Case No. 6:15-cv-1698-Orl-37GJK, Doc. 1, which was eventually assigned to the Undersigned, Id., Doc. 5. It is still ongoing. In the ad damnum clause of her Third Amended Complaint, “Johnson request[ed] economic, non-economic, and nominal damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 512(f).” Johnson, 2017 WL 1093446, at *4. She also alleged that PMM and PWM “violated her rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by filing the Copyright Action and making numerous false copyright infringement complaints to YouTube, which caused the removal of videos from her channel.” Id. On March 23, 2017, the Court dismissed Johnson's purported federal claims under § 512(f) and the First Amendment without prejudice, but denied her leave to file a fourth amended complaint due to the late stage of the proceedings and the Court's belief that Johnson had intended only to assert a claim for malicious prosecution (“March 23 Dismissal Order”). Id. at *11. Crucial to the Court's determination was the fact that: (1) the operative pleading was titled “Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint for Malicious Prosecution”; (2) the sole count was titled “Malicious Prosecution”; and (3) the introductory paragraph of the complaint stated only that she was suing the defendants for malicious prosecution. Id. at 5. The malicious prosecution claim remains pending in that action.

         C. Instant Action

         Following the March 23 Dismissal Order, Johnson filed the instant action against Defendants alleging claims for misrepresentation under § 512(f) and abuse of process. (Doc. 1 ¶ 29 (“Complaint”).) Presently, Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. 11.) Johnson has responded (Doc. 20), and the matter is ripe for the Court's adjudication.

         II. Legal Standards

         A pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “[D]etailed factual allegations” are not required, but “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Rather, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows [a] court to draw the reasonable inference that defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678; see also Bailey v. Wheeler, 843 F.3d 473, 480 (11th Cir. 2016).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a party may request dismissal of a pleading that falls short of these pleadings requirements. In resolving such motions, courts limit their consideration to the face of the complaint, its attachments, “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” See Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322-23 (2007); see also Hoefling v. City of Miami, 811 F.3d 1271, 1277 (11th Cir. 2016). Dismissal is warranted if, assuming the truth of the factual allegations of the complaint in a plaintiff's favor, there is a dispositive legal issue which precludes relief. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326 (1989).

         III. ...

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