A Tale of Two Motions to Get Out of A Case: One Works; One Doesn’t … Sovereign Immunity Launches One State School from Copyright Case

Wilcox v. Career Step (D. Utah 12/1/10)

Wilcox is the author of a medical coding course, and claims that Career Step (CS) is infringing Wilcox’s copyright. Career Step licenses the disputed medical coding course to various schools and colleges; and, in each instance Career Step requires that each student sign a contract that specifies that jurisdiction will be in Utah.

The court faced two motions one for lack of personal jurisdiction and another for a motion to dismiss on grounds of sovereign immunity from two of the schools which were also named as defendants.

The court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction stating that both WVS and Laramie knew the fact that CS was based in Utah. The agreement itself established several connections to Utah. First, the governing law of the contract was Utah law and the agreement arguably selected Utah as the venue of any suit involving the contract. Second, CS administered the Wilcox course from Utah. Third, the court concluded that Wilcox, a third-party to the relationship between CS and the moving defendants, could hale those defendants into a Utah court to litigate whether they violated Wilcox’s copyright in the course at issue. WVS and Laramie transacted business in Utah with CS and allegedly caused Wilcox injury in Utah. The moving defendants, two schools, reached into Utah to obtain the right to use the Wilcox course, which they knew was subject to claims of copyright and other intellectual property protection. Wilcox’s asserted harm related directly to defendants’ intentional choice of contracting with a Utah company to purportedly obtain a license to use the course. While the moving defendants may not have intentionally directed their activities toward Wilcox in Utah, they did intentionally make contact with Utah involving the Wilcox course. For these reasons, the court denied the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.

With regard to the state school’s motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity, the court detailed the history of the law of sovereign immunity and then applied the facts of the case focusing particularly that the school is a state school with one hundred percent of that school’s funding coming from the state coffers. The court held that the 11th amendment doctrine of sovereign immunity applies in this case barring the copyright action against the school.

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