PHILADELPHIA – A federal court has ruled a pair of former restaurant owners cannot be held liable for the illegal exhibition of a televised boxing match at their former establishment nearly four years ago.
Judge Eduardo C. Robreno ruled Jan. 29 to grant a motion for summary judgment in favor of defendants Catherine Aviles, Edwin Aviles and 258 E.C.E. Corporation and against the opposing motion for summary judgment filed by plaintiff J&J Sports Productions, Inc.
Per court records, the parties agreed on May 5, 2012, those in control of the restaurant “Latin Roots” at 256-258 East Allegheny Avenue, in Philadelphia, exhibited without permission a boxing match between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Miguel Cotto for the WBA Super World Light Middleweight Championship. The parties also do not dispute the plaintiff had exclusive commercial distribution rights to the program, but the parties do dispute whether defendants owned or had control over Latin Roots at the time of the May 5, 2012, broadcast.
After operating a restaurant called “Rebounds” for more than a decade on the premises, the defendants assert they sold the establishment on Dec. 9, 2011 to Ganel Lugo and CruzLugo, LLC. After purchasing the establishment, Lugo contends it was renamed “Latin Roots” and the plaintiffs had no relationship to or control over the premises – a point vigorously contended by J&J Sports Productions.
The plaintiff filed suit in April 2014 and maintained the litigation, even when Catherine Aviles contacted plaintiff counsel to explain there had been a mistake in the timeline regarding ownership of the establishment.
“To rule on both motions, the Court must discern only whether the evidence shows that there is a genuine dispute as to any material fact regarding whether defendants did or did not own or control Latin Roots on May 5, 2012,” Robreno said.
Robreno said “overwhelming” evidence such as a notarized deed marking the transfer of ownership from Catherine Aviles to CruzLugo on Dec. 9, 2011 for $450,000, affidavits from the defendants attesting to the sale and numerous other documents, made the defendants entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Robreno explained the plaintiff’s main contention that possible mistakes on the documents effecting the transfer of the premises’ liquor license – which was not fully transferred until after the alleged illegal broadcast in May 2012 – had no bearing on the current proceedings.
Robreno said the reliability of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s Certificate of Completion was therefore “deeply suspect”.
The plaintiffs also relied on a “Business Entity Filing History” form dated May 27, 2015 from the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website, which shows defendant 258 E.C.E. Corporation as having its registered office at 256-258 East Allegheny Avenue in Philadelphia.
Though Robreno said this did raise a dispute of material of fact, it was not a “genuine” one in lieu of the notarized public filing establishing the property was sold from the defendants to CruzLugo on Dec. 9, 2011.
The defendants sought the plaintiff to be sanctioned under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, which provides financial penalties for continuous pursuit of litigation deemed “frivolous, legally unreasonable, or without factual foundation”, but Robreno said the Court was not inclined to provide such relief here.
“In this case, evidence such as the May 27, 2015 ‘Business Entity Filing History’ website print-out listing 258 E.C.E. Corporation’s registered office as 256-258 E. Allegheny Avenue could lead one to believe that defendants controlled the activities occurring at Latin Roots on May 5, 2012. Thus, the Court concludes that Plaintiff’s actions were not so frivolous as to trigger Rule 11,” Robreno stated.
However, Robreno concluded by finding for the defense.
“The Court concludes that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact concerning defendants’ assertion that they did not control Latin Roots on May 5, 2012,” Robreno said.
“Thus, the Court will grant defendants’ motion. Conversely, in light of the evidence establishing defendants’ lack of ownership and control over Latin Roots on May 5, 2012, the Court finds that plaintiff is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Thus, the Court will deny plaintiff’s motion,” Robreno added.
The plaintiff is represented by Thomas P. Riley in South Pasadena, Calif. and John R. Brown of Ryan Brown Berger & Gibbons, in Philadelphia.
The defendants are represented by JoAnn Veltrup Diaz, in Turnersville, N.J.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-02456
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org