Court Awards $12,500 For 'Emotional Harm' From Bogus Copyright Lawsuit
from the it's-something dept
Almost a year ago, we wrote about a somewhat complex set of cases involving a woman named Shirley Johnson, who posted videos to YouTube that were critical of the New Destiny Christian Centers and Paula White Ministries. Paula White did not take kindly to this criticism and sued Johnson… for copyright infringement (though, the details suggest that the decision to sue actually came from White’s son, Brad Knight, and White agreed to it at Knight’s suggestion). This was because Johnson used video clips and images in her own videos. This seemed like a pretty clear copyright abuse case as it was obviously filed to stop criticism that involved fair use, and not for any legitimate purpose. The case was dismissed, but Johnson countersued for “malicious prosecution.” As we noted in our article from last September, Johnson then also filed a separate lawsuit for a DMCA 512(f) abuse claim. If you don’t recall, 512(f) is the (mostly toothless) part of the DMCA that bars “misrepresentations” in DMCA claims. So, there are two parallel cases going on, brought by Johnson (representing herself, without a lawyer), against Paula White and her various entities, for filing a bogus copyright claim against Johnson.
That case around 512(f) is still going as far as I can see. However, the malicious prosecution case has now concluded with the court awarding Johnson $12,500 for the “emotional harm” from the bogus copyright claim. Of course, before this happened, as the court itself says (and I’m not joking): “all hell broke loose.” That is directly from the court’s ruling back in January, which details a convoluted mess of discovery fights and bad behavior. It’s not at all worth going into what a complete and utter mess it became, but feel free to check out that link if you want. The short summary, though (quoting the court) is that Paula White Ministries “have exhibited a patent disregard for the Court’s discovery orders and processes” and “maintained that they did
not have to comply with discovery, demonstrating a preordained belief that they were above this process.” Given that, the court gave a default judgment in favor of Johnson. Default judgments usually occur when one party fails to show up. In this case, the court just decided to do this because of what appears to be outright frustration with Paula White Ministries. The judge literally said “been there, done that” in the ruling:
The Court now finds that the interests of justice require default judgment as the
only effective remedy. Motion Defendants willfully failed to comply with the Court’s
discovery orders. Lesser sanctions would be ineffective. Indeed, the Court balks at
Motion Defendants’ suggestions to allow Johnson additional discovery, impose more
monetary fines, or again push back the litigation calendar. (Doc. 171, p. 3.) Been there,
done that—to no avail. Motion Defendants have made clear their refusal to comply with
discovery orders, and they “richly deserve the sanction of a default judgment.” See
Malautea, 987 F.2d at 1542. Their willful disregard of discovery orders has prejudiced
Johnson and brought this action to a standstill for eighteen months. Motion Defendants’
obstreperous conduct warrants the sockdolager of default. See Nat’l Hockey League, 427
U.S. at 643 (“[T[he most severe in the spectrum of sanctions must be available to the
district court in appropriate cases.”); Adolph Coors, 777 F.2d at 1543; (upholding default
judgment when the defendants refused to turn over crucial documents from the get-go,
claiming privilege, and the district judge “exhibited great sensitivity” to the defendants’
Given that, Johnson then moved for monetary awards. And here, while the judge is clearly pissed off at Paula White Ministries and its actions in this case, it found little basis for most of Johnson’s requests. It agrees to the reimbursement of $1,207.93 in costs by Johnson, but rejects most of the other requests for damages, including nominal damages (there were none) and punitive damages for lack of sufficient evidence. But what is interesting, is that the court did award the $12,500 for emotional harms — though that number is limited because Johnson apparently did not seek medical treatment for the harm:
Johnson’s testimony about the mental anguish she suffered from the Copyright Infringement Action was credible. Specifically, Johnson testified about the lack of sleep, diminished enjoyment in various hobbies, and overall worry about the litigation and its consequences on her life. The Court finds that Johnson, as an individual unfamiliar with the legal process, credibly suffered emotional harm from the Copyright Infringement Action. But as Johnson did not seek medical treatment and her symptoms have abated, the Court finds a minimal award for these damages appropriate. Thus, the Court awards Johnson $12,500.00 for these damages.
So, the interesting news here is an actual award of damages in response to a bogus copyright filing. But, the cases all seem like a complete clusterfuck due to both sides doing all sorts of things you shouldn’t actually do. Despite the somewhat amusing expressions of exasperation from the judge, Roy Dalton, in the case, he actually seems to have done a pretty good job separating out what actually happened and coming to a reasonable conclusion.