NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge agreed to dismiss a royalties lawsuit involving the estate of a deceased singer.
After Joan Marie Johnson died in October 2016, the rights to her music royalties form her time as a member of The Dixie Cups went to her niece, Jerri Jones, of Texas. Jones sued Artists Rights Enforcement Corp. (AREC) of New York, which retained 50 percent of Johnson’s royalties per her 1984 contract. She filed the complaint in Louisiana, where The Dixie Cups were based, but AREC asked to have the case dismissed or transferred.
In an opinion issued April 16, Judge Jay Zainey ruled in favor of AREC, which argued it had not done enough business in Louisiana for that state to be considered home and a proper venue for the lawsuit. AREC further said it never “purposefully availed itself of the benefits and protections of the laws of Louisiana,” according to Zainey.
AREC said Jones could point to only one contract “unilaterally signed by Johnson in Louisiana,” Zainey wrote, and that if any improprieties did occur, they would have taken place in New York because that state was home to the bank account where the royalties were remitted and maintained.
For her part, Jones alleged that “AREC deliberately and intentionally sought out business from Johnson and the other members of The Dixie Cups in Louisiana,” Zainey wrote. She pointed to another federal case involving Louisiana musician Huey Smith and said the Southern District of New York and Superior Court of California already dismissed her complaint for a lack of personal jurisdiction over herself, while the Eastern District Court of Texas dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction over AREC.
Zainey said Jones didn’t adequately present a prima facie case for why the Eastern District of Louisiana has jurisdiction over AREC.
“The only contacts that are before the Court to consider include: AREC allegedly contacted Johnson, a Louisiana resident at the time, for business; and Johnson thereafter unilaterally signed the contract in Louisiana,” Zainey wrote. “The existence of a contractual relationship, although relevant, does not automatically establish sufficient minimum contacts.”
Zainey pointed to a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, in which justices determined “the prior negotiations and contemplated future consequences, along with the terms of the contract and the parties’ actual course of dealing, must be evaluated to determine whether a defendant purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum.”
However, he continued, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2009 opinion in McFadin v. Gerber, “held that communications relating to the performance alone are insufficient to establish minimum contacts,” he wrote. “As the Court lacks any additional contacts or evidence to consider, it finds that the cited contacts are insufficient for purposes of specific jurisdiction. The Court also finds that these contacts fail to establish a continuous and systematic relationship such as to render AREC ‘at home’ in Louisiana for purposes of general jurisdiction.”
AREC had moved to dismiss Jones’ complaint or transfer it to a different judicial district. Zainey’s opinion simply granted AREC’s motion.