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Teacher Continues Copyright Infringement Suit Against School

Looking to cure defects in Complaint, and in response to an Order to Dismiss, Plaintiff moves to file Second Amended Complaint

On April 20, 2020, Plaintiff Linda Woodson ("Woodson") filed a Motion to Amend and File Second Amended Complaint ("Motion to Amend"). Woodson's filing comes after the Court granted the Defendants James Knox and the Atlantic City Board of Education's and the National Association of Elementary School Principals' (jointly "Defendants") Motions to Dismiss. We previously reported on this case in July and November 2019.

In its Opinion regarding the Motions to Dismiss, the Court addressed the Defendants' claims that Woodson's Complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because (1) Woodson's work constituted a work made for hire, and so Woodson did not own the copyright; and (2) Woodson's filing was untimely.

The Court first addressed the timeliness argument. The Court noted that copyright claims must be commenced "within three years after the claim accrued." 17 U.S.C. § 507(b). The Court concluded that Woodson's "claim accrued at the moment the infringement occurred." The Court noted that Woodson's work was created in 2010, that the Defendants' alleged infringement occurred in early 2011, and the case was not filed until July 2019.

The Court addressed Woodson's argument that her claims were tolled by the discovery rule. The Court noted that in the proposed Amended Complaint, Woodson "not only . . . fail[s] to allege that she discovered the infringement in 2018, but . . . [she] fails to allege when she discovered the alleged harm at all." Therefore, the Court concluded that in the proposed Amended Complaint, Woodson failed to allege any "factual allegations to avail herself of the [discovery] rule in the first instance."

The Court then turned its attention to the Defendants' argument that Woodson's work was a work made for hire. The Court stated that there is no dispute that Woodson is an employee, but the determination of whether the work was a work made for hire turned on whether the work was done within the scope of Woodson's employment. The Court followed the Third Circuit in employing the Second Restatement of Agency's three-part test which requires the Defendants to show that the work: (1) is the kind of work [Woodson] is employed to perform; (2) occurs substantially within authorized work hours; (3) is actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the employer.

After reviewing the record, the Court concluded that Woodson's proposed Amended Complaint "plausibly alleges that she owns a copyright and, therefore, would withstand a Motion to dismiss on this issue."

The Court then granted the Motions to Dismiss because the complaint was untimely. However, the Court permitted Woodson 30 days to file a Second Motion to Amend, so long as Woodson could amend her claims consistent with the Court's Opinion.

On April 20, 2020, Woodson filed her Second Amended Complaint. Woodson claims the Second Amended Complaint "alleges additional facts that show that Woodson's complaint was timely filed." Woodson admits that, "although [her] claims accrued at the moment that the Defendants copied work that Woodson owned a valid copyright in, the statute of limitations on these claims was tolled until the point when Woodson should have known of the basis for her claims."