USCA Ninth Circuit, July 17, 2012

Click here for a copy of the full decision.

  • Ninth Circuit affirms district court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings in favor of defendants on copyright infringement claims finding, as a matter of law, no substantial similarity between protected elements of plaintiff’s works and the defendants’ “CARS” movies, and that plaintiff’s claim for breach of an implied contract was time-barred under California’s two-year statute of limitations.

Plaintiff Jake Mandeville-Anthony brought suit against defendants The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Pictures, Disney Enterprises, Inc., Pixar d/b/a Pixar Animation Studios for copyright infringement and breach of implied contract, alleging that he owns the copyright in two works, Cookie & Co. and Cars/Auto-Excess/Cars Chaos, that defendants had access to those works at the time that they created the animated films CARS and CARS 2, and the spin-off television series Cars Toon, and that defendants used those works to create their works without compensating him.

After answering plaintiff’s complaint, defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings on both plaintiff’s copyright and contract claims, asserting that as a matter of law, the plaintiff’s works were not substantially similar to their films, and their works were independently created. Defendants also raised the two-year statute of limitations as a bar to the breach of implied contract claim. The district court granted defendants’ motion and dismissed plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim without leave to amend, finding that defendants had sufficiently shown that their movies were not substantially similar to plaintiff’s works in their protectable elements such as plot, sequence of events, pace, characters, theme, mood and setting as a matter of law. The court also dismissed plaintiff’s claim for breach of implied contract as time-barred under California’s two-year statute of limitations. The two years begin to run from the date of the alleged breach – in this case, no later than June 2006, the date on which the motion picture CARS was released in theaters – and the statute of limitations expired in June 2008, but plaintiff did not bring suit until March 2011. (Read our summary of the district court’s decision here).

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the copyright claim, finding “no substantial similarity between protected elements of his copyrighted works and comparable elements of the defendants' works as a matter of law, and any similarity in the general concepts of car racing and anthropomorphic cars is unprotected.” The court also affirmed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s breach of implied contact claim as time-barred, noting that that absent evidence of concealment or misrepresentation, a cause of action for breach of contract accrues on the date of injury, rejecting plaintiff’s arguments that “delayed discovery” and “continuing violations” theories applied to extend the statute of limitations.