United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
UNITED SUPREME COUNCIL, 33 DEGREE OF THE ANCIENT AND ACCEPTED SCOTTISH RITE OF FREEMASONRY, PRINCE HALL AFFILIATION, SOUTHERN JURISDICTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
UNITED SUPREME COUNCIL OF THE ANCIENT ACCEPTED SCOTTISH RITE FOR THE 33 DEGREE OF FREEMASONRY, SOUTHERN JURISDICTION, PRINCE HALL AFFILIATED, ETAL., Defendants.
Ivan D. Davis Judge
matter came before the Court on Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment (Dkt. 255). The Court heard oral arguments on
March 9, 2018. See Dkt. 339. Having considered the
pleadings, the oral arguments, and the evidence in the case,
the Court concluded that summary judgment for Defendants was
appropriate. In recognition of the pending trial date, the
Court issued a short order to this effect on March 9, 2018,
with a memorandum opinion to follow. See Dkt. 338.
Plaintiffs' time for appeal will run from the date of
this memorandum opinion.
background of this case has been addressed at length in the
pleadings and in the Court's previous order addressing
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. See Dkt. 71. The
Court will not review matters previously addressed, but will
turn directly to the issues raised by Defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment. In their motion, Defendants seek
dismissal of the six counts remaining in this case: Count I
(common law unfair competition); Count II (conspiracy to
commit common law unfair competition); Count V (tortious
interference with contract); Count VI (conspiracy to commit
tortious interference with contract); Count IX (copyright
infringement); and Count X (trademark
infringement). Defendants also challenge Plaintiffs'
standing to bring these claims.
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is appropriate if the
"pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact
and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catretl, 477
U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A party moving for summary judgment has
the initial burden of showing the court the basis for its
motion and identifying the evidence that demonstrates the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id.
Once the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the
opposing party has the burden of showing, by means of
affidavits or other verified evidence, that there exists a
genuine dispute of material fact. See Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87
reviewing a summary judgment motion, the court must
"draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party." United Slates v. Carolina
Transformer Co., 978 F.2d 832, 835 (4th Cir. 1992).
Summary judgment is not appropriate if the resolution of
material issues depends on credibility determinations.
Meyers v. Baltimore Cty., 713 F.3d 723, 730 (4th
challenge Plaintiffs' claims on several grounds. The
Court will first address Plaintiffs' standing, and will
then consider the merits of Plaintiffs' claims of
tortious interference with contract, copyright infringement,
trademark infringement, unfair competition, and conspiracy.
this Court may exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiffs'
claims, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that they have
constitutional standing. See Lujan v. Defenders of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). Plaintiffs must show
that: (1) they have suffered an "injury in fact" to
a legally protected interest and that the injury is (a)
concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not
conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly
traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3)
it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the
injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.
challenge the standing of both named Plaintiffs in this case:
(1) the United Supreme Council, 33 Degree of the Ancient and
Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Prince Hall
Affiliation, Southern Jurisdiction of the United States of
America ("Plaintiff USC-SJ"); and (2) the United
Supreme Council 33° of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish
Rite of Freemasonry (Prince Hall Affiliation) Southern
Jurisdiction U.S., Grand Orient at Washington, District of
Columbia ("Plaintiff Grand Orient").
argue that Plaintiff USC-SJ has failed to establish that it
is either a natural person or a legal entity. See
Dkt. 256 at 20. In the absence of a legal existence,
Defendants argue, Plaintiff has suffered no injury in fact
that can be redressed by this lawsuit. Id.
the Court notes that the parties agree that Plaintiff USC-SJ
is not incorporated in Tennessee as is alleged in the Amended
Complaint. See Dkt. 182; Dkt. 183; see also
Dkt. 44 at ¶ 1. On October 9, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a
Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint,
requesting, among other things, leave to amend to
"reflect that the first named Plaintiff [USC-SJ] is, and
has operated as, a D.C. unincorporated non-profit social,
charitable, and fraternal association." See
Dkt. 182 at 2. Plaintiffs acknowledged that "[t]his
Plaintiff was incorrectly identified as a Tennessee
non-profit corporation in the First Amended Complaint."
Id. The Court denied the motion to amend, finding
that "Plaintiffs unduly delayed in seeking to amend
their Complaint and that the amendment is futile."
See Dkt. 215 at 1. Plaintiffs are therefore in an
unusual position; they have admitted that they are not a
Tennessee corporation, as plead in the operative Complaint,
but they have made no showing as to any other legal
attempt to circumvent this fact by arguing that Defendants
have admitted that USC-SJ is a Tennessee corporation because
Defendants made a statement to that effect in their Answer.
See Dkt. 319 at 4; see also Lucas v.
Burnley, 879 F.2d 1240, 1242 (4th Cir. 1989) (noting
that a party is bound by the admissions of his pleadings).
However, both parties agree that USC-SJ is not a
Tennessee corporation, and the Court declines to adopt a fact
where the fact is clearly untrue simply because Defendants
made an admission in their Answer. See Dkt. 182 at
2; Dkt. 256 at 16; New Amsterdam Cas. Co. v. Waller,
323 F.2d 20, 24 (4th Cir. 1963) ("[A] court,
unquestionably, has the right to relieve a party of his
judicial admission if it appears that the admitted fact is
clearly untrue and that the party was laboring under a
mistake when he made the admission.") Cornell
Constr. Corp. v. Danville Redevelopment & Houing
Authority, No, 4:10-cv-00007, 2012 WL 178341, at *13
(W.D. Va. Jan. 23, 2012) (noting that even if a statement
qualifies as a judicial admission, it is "not
necessarily binding," because "considerations of
fairness and the policy of encouraging judicial admissions
require that trial judges be given broad discretion to
relieve parties from the consequences of judicial admissions
in appropriate cases").
also assert that Defendants have waived their argument
regarding Plaintiff USC-SJ's legal existence because lack
of capacity is an affirmative defense which must be raised
with particularity in a party's answer. See Dkt.
319 at 3; Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(a); see also Definitive Res.,
Inc. v. United States, No. DKC 2005-3233, 2006 WL
3423854, at *2 (D. Md. Nov. 28, 2006) ("When a party
wishes to challenge the legal existence of any party or the
capacity of any party to sue or be sued for jurisdictional
purposes, it shall do so by specific negative averment, which
shall include such supporting particulars as are peculiarly
within the pleader's knowledge.").
it is true that lack of legal capacity is an affirmative
defense which must be raised in an answer, standing
is a jurisdictional issue which may be raised at any
time. See China Cast Edu. Corp. v. Chen Zhou
Goit, No. 15-05475, 2016 WL 10653269, at *2 (CD. Cal.
Jan. 8, 2016) (finding that questions regarding a plaintiffs
legal existence raise "the fundamental standing question
of whether the Court can redress any of Plaintiffs alleged
injuries if Plaintiff no longer legally exists");
Northpoint Tech., Ltd. v. Directv, Inc., No.
1-09-cv-506, 2010 WL 11444098, at *2 (W.D. Tex. Oct. 25,
2010) ("A question as to legal existence is a question
of standing."). Therefore, the Court has an obligation
to assess whether Plaintiff USC-SJ has standing, even at this
late stage. See Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct.
1540, 1547 (2016) (finding that courts lack subject matter
jurisdiction where a plaintiff lacks standing).
Defendants assert that Plaintiff USC-SJ has failed to
establish that it is a legal entity of any kind. See
Dkt. 256 at 20. The Court agrees. Plaintiff USC-SJ is
indisputably not a Tennessee corporation. Plaintiff USC-SJ
has not made any showing that it is a D.C. unincorporated
association. If Plaintiff USC-SJ has failed to establish a
legal existence, it can have no stake in the outcome of this
case. Northpoint Tech., 2010 WL 11444098, at *2;
see also Levy v Am. Med. Collections Bureau, 2016 WL
5462722, at *2 (E.D. Va. Sept. 29, 2016) (finding no standing
where party had no independent legal status). Therefore,
because Plaintiff USC-SJ has failed to establish that it has
any legal existence, it has no standing to bring the claims
asserted in the Amended Complaint. See Benn v.
Seventh-Day Adventist Church, 304 F.Supp.2d 716, 721-22
(D. Md. 2004).