Armes v. Post

Decision Date18 April 2022
Docket Number2:20-cv-03212-ODW (PJWx)
PartiesTYLER ARMES, Plaintiff, v. AUSTIN RICHARD POST p/k/a POST MALONE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California




Plaintiff Tyler Armes brought suit against Defendants Austin Richard Post, publicly known as Post Malone (Post) Adam King Feeney, publicly known as Frank Dukes (“Dukes); and Universal Music Group, Inc., seeking a declaration and an accounting regarding his rights in the hit song Circles, which Armes alleges he cowrote with Post. Post countersued in the Southern District of New York for a declaration that Armes has no rights in Circles; that case has been consolidated with this one. Post and Dukes (hereinafter, Defendants) now move for summary judgment in their favor on both Armes' First Amended Complaint and Post Malone's Consolidated Complaint. (Mot. Summ. J. (“Motion” or “Mot.”), ECF No. 82.)

On April 11, 2022, the Court heard oral argument from counsel for each side. Having carefully considered the arguments raised at the hearing, along with all the papers filed in connection with the Motion, the Court GRANTS the Motion IN PART and DENIES the Motion IN PART, for the reasons that follow.


Plaintiff Armes is a professional musician whose credits include his work as bandleader, writer, and producer for the multi-platinum band Down With Webster. (First Am. Compl. (“FAC”), ECF No. 24 ¶ 2.) Defendant Post is a well-known rapper, singer, and songwriter, and Defendant Dukes is one of Post's musical collaborators. (See FAC ¶¶ 1, 3, 15-16.)

Armes's key allegations are as follows.

On a number of occasions, Post's manager, Dre London (“Dre”), encouraged Armes to collaborate with Post. (Id. ¶ 12.) In early August 2018, at Dre's invitation, Armes attended a private concert in Toronto, Canada where Post was performing. (Id. ¶ 13.) The following evening, Dre invited Armes to go to Dukes's Toronto studio with Post and Dukes to write music together. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) On August 8, 2018, from 2:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., Armes, Post, and Dukes worked together in the studio, with Armes on bass and keyboard, Post on drums, and Dukes on guitar and keyboards (the April 8 Session”). (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) Working from a keyboard and a bass, Armes co-wrote the chords and the distinctive bassline that would ultimately become part of Circles. (FAC ¶ 16.) Armes also co-wrote, with Post, the lead guitar line that would ultimately be heard in the introduction to the commercial release of Circles. (Id.)

By the end of the April 8 Session, the three had reduced their collaboration to a recording (the “Session File”) on Dukes's laptop, which contained a bassline, a looping chord progression, drums, some lead guitar lines, and several fragments of vocal lines, both with and without lyrics. (See id. ¶ 18; Decl. Tyler Armes (“Armes Decl.”) Ex. 1 (“iPhone Recording”), ECF No. 84-2.) At the end of the April 8 Session, around 9:00 a.m., the three listened to a playback of the Session File, and Post and Dukes expressed enthusiasm about the results. (FAC ¶ 18; iPhone Recording at timestamp 7:34.) About a year later, after contributions and modifications from Post's lyricists and other collaborators, the musical material in the Session File debuted as Circles, Post's fourth number one song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. (See FAC ¶ 21; Armes Decl. ¶ 19, ECF No. 84-2.) With the exception of the lyrics and some of the vocal melodic content, the musical content of Circles is identical to the musical content in the Session File. (Armes Decl. ¶ 19; compare iPhone Recording with Armes Decl. Ex. 2 (Circles Commercial Release”), ECF No. 84-2.) Along with Post and Dukes, the credited writers of Circles are non-parties Billy Walsh, Louis Bell, and Kaan Gunesberk. (FAC ¶ 24.)

When Post first premiered Circles on social media, Armes immediately reached out to Dre to ask him to speak with Post about giving Armes co-writer credit and publishing royalties for his role in creating Circles. (Id. ¶ 22.) Dre responded by texting, “Just showed Posty the message [¶] He said he remembers [¶] U played a tune on the bass then he played more of it after.” (Id. ¶ 23.) Later, Post offered a five percent share of the publishing royalties for Circles, and Armes tried to negotiate for a larger percentage, without success. (Id. ¶ 25.) To date, Defendants have refused to credit Armes as a co-writer of Circles. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Defendants, for their part, do not dispute the basic facts underpinning these allegations. (See generally SUF, SGD.) They do not dispute that Armes is a musician; that Dre introduced Armes to Post; that Armes, Post, and Dukes spent a night in Post's studio in August 2018; that the results of that studio session led to the release of Circles about a year later; and Armes is not credited as a co-writer of Circles. What they dispute is the extent to which Armes participated in the August 8 Session as a musical collaborator.


The morning of April 7, 2020, Armes filed a Complaint in the Central District of California against Post, Dukes, and Universal Music Group, asserting four causes of action for: (1) Declaratory Judgment that Armes is: (a) a joint author of the Circles musical composition (Circles Composition”), (b) a joint author of the Circles sound recording (Circles Recording”), (c) entitled to co-writer and co-producer credits for both copyrights, and (d) entitled to prospective and retroactive royalties with respect to his interests in those copyrights, in a percentage to be proven at trial; (2) Accounting of all revenues derived from Defendants' exploitation of the Circles Composition and Circles Recording; and (3) Constructive Trust over the proceeds from the exploitation of the Circles Composition and Circles Recording pending the final disposition of this action. (See Compl., ECF No. 1.)

Later that same day, Post commenced a parallel action in the Southern District of New York, Post v. Armes, No. 1:20-CV-02877-ALC (S.D.N.Y.), seeking declaratory judgment that Armes is a co-author of neither the Circles Composition nor the Circles Recording.

On May 13, 2020, Armes filed the operative FAC, and Defendants, including Defendant Universal Music Group, moved to dismiss. (FAC; Mot. Dismiss FAC, ECF No. 28.) The Court granted the motion in part and denied it in part, dismissing Armes's claims to authorship of and ownership in the Circles Recording, on the grounds that Armes failed to allege facts showing that he (1) made an independently copyrightable contribution to the Circles Recording, and (2) superintended the creation of the Circles Recording by exercising control over it. (Order Dismissing FAC 12-13, ECF No. 32.) Although the Court provided leave to amend, Armes did not amend, instead stipulating to dismiss his claim of authorship in the Circles Recording, including dismissal of Universal Music Group as a party, and proceeding with his claim of authorship in the Circles Composition only. (Stip. Dismiss, ECF No. 34; Min. Order, ECF No. 35.)

The parties stipulated to transfer the venue of Post's Southern District of New York case to the Central District of California, and, on December 15, 2020, upon further stipulation of the parties, this Court consolidated the two cases. (Min. Order, ECF No. 45.)

Defendants now move for summary judgment. Their motion is two-pronged. First, they seek summary judgment in their favor on Armes's FAC and dismissal of Armes's FAC. Second, they seek summary judgment in their favor on their own Consolidated Complaint. (See Mot.; Consol. Compl., ECF No. 1 in 2:20-cv-10205-ODW (SKx).) The Motion is fully briefed. (Opp'n, ECF No. 84; Reply, ECF No. 86.)


A 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). A disputed fact is “material” where the resolution of that fact “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” and the dispute is “genuine” where “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact lies with the moving party, and the moving party may meet this burden with arguments or evidence or both. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the nonmoving party cannot simply rest on the pleadings or argue that any disagreement or “metaphysical doubt” about a material issue of fact precludes summary judgment. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Cal. Architectural Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Franciscan Ceramics, Inc., 818 F.2d 1466, 1468 (9th Cir. 1987). The non-moving party must show that there are “genuine factual issues that . . . may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Franciscan Ceramics, 818 F.2d at 1468 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250) (emphasis omitted). Provided the moving party has satisfied its burden, the court should grant summary judgment against a party who fails to present evidence establishing an essential element of its claim or defense when that party will ultimately bear the burden of proof on that claim or defense at trial. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

In ruling on summary judgment motions, courts draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, refraining from making credibility determinations or weighing conflicting evidence....

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT