Stone v. Williams, Docket No. 91-7706

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
Writing for the CourtCARDAMONE
Citation970 F.2d 1043
Docket NumberDocket No. 91-7706
Decision Date13 July 1992
Parties1992 Copr.L.Dec. P 26,940, 23 U.S.P.Q.2d 1492 Cathy Yvonne STONE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Hank WILLIAMS, Jr., Billie Jean Williams Berlin, Chappell Music Company, a division of Chappell & Co., Inc., a Delaware Corporation, Aberbach Enterprises, Ltd., a New York Corporation, Acuff-Rose-Opryland Music, Inc., a Tennessee Corporation, Milene Opryland Music, Inc., a Tennessee Corporation, Wesley H. Rose and Roy Acuff, Individually and as Trustees in Liquidation for Stockholders of Fred Rose Music, Inc., and Milene Music, Inc., Fred Rose Music, Inc., a Tennessee Corporation, and Milene Music Inc., a Tennessee Corporation, Defendants-Appellants.

Page 1043

970 F.2d 1043
1992 Copr.L.Dec. P 26,940, 23 U.S.P.Q.2d 1492
Cathy Yvonne STONE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Hank WILLIAMS, Jr., Billie Jean Williams Berlin, Chappell
Music Company, a division of Chappell & Co., Inc., a
Delaware Corporation, Aberbach Enterprises, Ltd., a New York
Corporation, Acuff-Rose-Opryland Music, Inc., a Tennessee
Corporation, Milene Opryland Music, Inc., a Tennessee
Corporation, Wesley H. Rose and Roy Acuff, Individually and
as Trustees in Liquidation for Stockholders of Fred Rose
Music, Inc., and Milene Music, Inc., Fred Rose Music, Inc.,
a Tennessee Corporation, and Milene Music Inc., a Tennessee
Corporation, Defendants-Appellants.
Docket No. 91-7706.
United States Court of Appeals,
Second Circuit.
Submitted Nov. 13, 1991.
Decided July 13, 1992.

Page 1046

Milton A. Rudin, Beverly Hills, Cal. (Joseph L. Golden, Rudin, Appel & Rosenfeld, Beverly Hills, Cal., Kenneth E. Warner, Coblence & Warner, New York City, of counsel), for plaintiff-appellant Cathy Yvonne Stone.

Alan L. Shulman, New York City (Richard H. Frank, Jr., W. Michael Milom, Christian A. Horsnell, Silverman & Shulman, P.C., New York City, Lawrence I. Fox, Stephen K. Rush, David L. Kleinfelter, McDermott, Will & Emery, New York City, of counsel), for defendants-appellees Hank Williams, Jr., Acuff-Rose-Opryland Music, Inc., Milene-Opryland Music, Inc., Wesley H. Rose, Roy Acuff, Fred Rose Music, Inc. and Milene Music, Inc.

Thomas R. Levy, New York City, for defendants-appellees Billie Jean Williams Berlin, Chappell Music Co. and Aberbach Enterprises, Ltd.

Before: VAN GRAAFEILAND, CARDAMONE, and PIERCE, Circuit Judges.

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

This appeal continues the bitter litigation arising from plaintiff's belated discovery that she is the daughter of the late famous country and western singer Hank Williams, Sr. Because we have set forth in some detail on two previous occasions the principal players and their roles in this matter, see Stone v. Williams, 873 F.2d 620 (2d Cir.) (Stone I ), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 959, 110 S.Ct. 377, 107 L.Ed.2d 362 (1989), vacated, 891 F.2d 401 (2d Cir.1989) (Stone II ), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 937, 110 S.Ct. 3215, 110 L.Ed.2d 662 (1990), we assume the reader's familiarity with much of the background and report only such facts in the following discussion as is necessary to make it intelligible.

Plaintiff commenced this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Keenan, J.) on September 12, 1985 seeking a declaration that she is Williams, Sr.'s child within the meaning of §§ 24 and 304(a) of the Copyright Acts of 1909, ch. 320, 35 Stat. 1075 et seq. (1909), as amended, ch. 391, 61 Stat. 652 et seq. (1947), and 1976, 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 et seq., respectively, and therefore entitled to copyright renewals for his extensive repertory of songs. The defendants are Hank Williams, Jr., the singer's son, and Billie Jean Williams Berlin, the singer's widow. The other defendants in this suit are assignees of certain of their interests. Williams, Jr. assigned an interest in his renewal copyrights to defendants Fred Rose Music, Inc. (Fred Rose), which subsequently assigned certain rights to Milene Music, Inc. (Milene). Defendants Wesley Rose and Roy Acuff served as liquidation trustees for Fred Rose and Milene. Acuff-Rose Opryland Music, Inc. (Acuff-Rose) and Milene-Opryland Music, Inc. (Milene-Opryland) are successors in interest to Wesley Rose and Roy Acuff. Thus, Williams, Jr., Acuff-Rose, Milene-Opryland, Wesley Rose, Roy Acuff, Fred Rose and Milene (collectively, the Acuff/Rose defendants) hold an interest in the copyright renewals through Williams, Jr. Billie Jean Williams Berlin assigned an interest to defendant Aberbach Enterprises, Ltd. (Aberbach) in her copyright renewals. By contract with Aberbach, Chappell Music Co. (Chappell) serves as administrator of Berlin's interests in the renewal copyrights. Thus, Berlin, Aberbach and Chappell (collectively, the Berlin defendants) hold an interest in the copyright renewals through Berlin.

The district court in 1988, 1988 WL 96091, granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the ground of laches. We affirmed. Stone I, 873 F.2d at 624-26. On petition for rehearing the decision in Stone I was vacated and the panel reversed the district court's holding on laches, Stone II, 891 F.2d at 404-05, in light of the Alabama Supreme Court's intervening decision in Stone v. Gulf American Fire & Casualty Co., 554 So.2d 346 (Ala.1989) (Gulf American ), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 943, 110 S.Ct. 3229, 110 L.Ed.2d 676 (1990).

The Gulf American suit was instituted by defendants Williams, Jr., Wesley Rose and Roy Acuff, seeking a declaration that Stone was barred from demonstrating that she was the natural child of Williams, Sr.

Page 1047

entitled to a share of his estate. Stone counter-claimed seeking to establish her status as a child of Williams, Sr. and also filed a third-party action seeking to have his estate reopened. She alleged in her third-party action that Irene Smith (Williams, Sr.'s sister, who served as administratrix of the estate), Robert Stewart (attorney for the estate), and the insurance companies serving as sureties for the estate had conspired to conceal her identity. The Alabama Circuit Court granted summary judgment in favor of Williams, Jr., Wesley Rose and Roy Acuff in their declaratory suit and in favor of the third-party defendants in Stone's suit to reopen the estate, though it did hold after a trial that Williams, Sr. was Stone's father. Stone appealed the decision denying her application to reopen the estate. Williams Jr., Rose and Acuff took no appeal from the trial court's finding that Stone was the daughter of Williams Sr.

On Stone's appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed. It set aside judgments rendered by the Montgomery County Circuit Court in 1967 and 1968 declaring Williams, Jr. to be the sole beneficiary of the estate, and held that plaintiff was entitled to a proportional share of the proceeds of Williams, Sr.'s estate. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that due to the fraud and concealment by the parties involved, plaintiff's action to reopen her father's estate was timely. In light of this finding, we held that laches did not bar plaintiff's suit, see Stone II, 891 F.2d at 404-05, and accordingly remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

On remand, the district court considered alternative bases asserted by defendants for summary judgment. It held the paternity decision in Gulf American was not entitled to preclusive effect because Williams, Jr. was not afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issues decided and because none of the other defendants were parties or in privity with parties to the third-party action appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. The district court further ruled that Stone's first cause of action accrued no later than October 17, 1979 and was therefore barred by the three year statute of limitations in 17 U.S.C. § 507(b), 766 F.Supp. 158. As to plaintiff's second cause of action--alleging conspiracy to suppress material facts concerning her status and rights as an heir--the district court found that as defendants were under no duty to divulge information to plaintiff, their mere silence could not give rise to a claim for conspiracy. Stone appeals. We reverse.

DISCUSSION

I Statute of Limitations

The first question addressed is whether plaintiff's first cause of action seeking an interest in renewals is time-barred. We start with the Copyright Act of 1976 that provides

No civil action shall be maintained under the provisions of this title unless it is commenced within three years after the claim accrued.

17 U.S.C. § 507(b) (emphasis added). This provision parallels § 115(b) of the 1909 Act, as amended, Pub.L. No. 85-313, 71 Stat. 633 (1957). H.R.Rep. No. 1476, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 164, reprinted in 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 5659, 5780. As no substantive change for limitations purposes was made, the considerations underlying our analysis are the same for renewals governed under either the 1909 or 1976 Act. See Taylor v. Meirick, 712 F.2d 1112, 1118 (7th Cir.1983).

A. Declaration of Rights

The district court viewed Stone's action merely as seeking a declaration of her rights under the Copyright Act. It concluded further that since her claim accrued no later than October 17, 1979--when plaintiff admitted having been told by her adoptive mother of her possible identity--her suit, brought more than three years after October 17, 1979, was untimely. We agree Stone is attempting to establish her status as a "child" of Williams, Sr. through a declaratory judgment action. Yet, it is plain that plaintiff seeks more than a declaration of her rights, as her third amended

Page 1048

complaint demonstrates: "FIRST CLAIM FOR RELIEF FOR DECLARATION OF RIGHTS, ACCOUNTING, DAMAGES, AND IMPOSITION OF CONSTRUCTIVE TRUST AND/OR RESULTING TRUST." These different claims must be analyzed separately for statute of limitations purposes.

In ruling that because the Copyright Act has a three-year statute of limitations, declaratory judgment suits are subject to the same time-bar, the district court lumped together separate and distinct claims made by plaintiff: one, for a declaration of status, and the other for relief as a result of that status. Because a declaratory judgment action is a procedural device used to vindicate substantive rights, it is time-barred only if relief on a direct claim based on such rights would also be barred. See 118 E. 60th Owners, Inc. v. Bonner Properties, Inc., 677 F.2d 200, 202 (2d Cir.1982); Luckenbach S.S. Co. v. United States, 312 F.2d 545, 548 (2d Cir.1963). Thus, determining whether the three year statute of limitations in § 507(b) prevents plaintiff from seeking a declaration that she is a child of Williams, Sr. requires assessment of whether the relief sought as the result of such...

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235 practice notes
  • Black Radio Network, Inc. v. Nynex Corp., No. 96 CIV. 4138(DC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • April 14, 1999
    ...Fraudulent concealment tolls the statute of limitations, but only until the plaintiff has notice of a possible claim. Stone v. Williams, 970 F.2d 1043, 1048-49 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 508 U.S. 906, 113 S.Ct. 2331, 124 L.Ed.2d 243 (1993); Rosner v. Codata Corp., 917 F.Supp. 1009, 1019 ......
  • Netzer v. Continuity Graphic Associates, Inc., No. 93 Civ. 5870 (RWS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • April 7, 1997
    ...of action accrues when a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have been put on inquiry as to the existence of a right. Stone v. Williams, 970 F.2d 1043, 1048 (2d Cir.1992); see also Merchant, 92 F.3d at 56. An express assertion of sole authorship or ownership will start the copyright statute......
  • Carell v. Shubert Organization, Inc., No. 99 Civ. 4997(AGS).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • June 27, 2000
    ...under section 43(a), and refusing motion to dismiss as to two others that occurred within six-year period); cf. Stone v. Williams, 970 F.2d 1043, 1049 (2d. Cir.1992) (treating each of plaintiff's copyright claims as "a distinct harm giving rise to an independent claim for Plaintiff claims t......
  • Everly v. Everly, No. 19-5150
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • May 4, 2020
    ..."the final step" of not paying royalties (establishing the claim’s breach element). Id. at 128, 127 S.Ct. 764 ; see Stone v. Williams , 970 F.2d 1043, 1048 (2d Cir. 1992) ; cf. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Junior Univ. v. Roche Molecular Sys., Inc. , 583 F.3d 832, 846–47 (Fed. Cir. 2009),......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
233 cases
  • Black Radio Network, Inc. v. Nynex Corp., No. 96 CIV. 4138(DC).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • April 14, 1999
    ...Fraudulent concealment tolls the statute of limitations, but only until the plaintiff has notice of a possible claim. Stone v. Williams, 970 F.2d 1043, 1048-49 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 508 U.S. 906, 113 S.Ct. 2331, 124 L.Ed.2d 243 (1993); Rosner v. Codata Corp., 917 F.Supp. 1009, 1019 ......
  • Netzer v. Continuity Graphic Associates, Inc., No. 93 Civ. 5870 (RWS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • April 7, 1997
    ...of action accrues when a reasonably diligent plaintiff would have been put on inquiry as to the existence of a right. Stone v. Williams, 970 F.2d 1043, 1048 (2d Cir.1992); see also Merchant, 92 F.3d at 56. An express assertion of sole authorship or ownership will start the copyright statute......
  • Carell v. Shubert Organization, Inc., No. 99 Civ. 4997(AGS).
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • June 27, 2000
    ...under section 43(a), and refusing motion to dismiss as to two others that occurred within six-year period); cf. Stone v. Williams, 970 F.2d 1043, 1049 (2d. Cir.1992) (treating each of plaintiff's copyright claims as "a distinct harm giving rise to an independent claim for Plaintiff claims t......
  • Everly v. Everly, No. 19-5150
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • May 4, 2020
    ..."the final step" of not paying royalties (establishing the claim’s breach element). Id. at 128, 127 S.Ct. 764 ; see Stone v. Williams , 970 F.2d 1043, 1048 (2d Cir. 1992) ; cf. Bd. of Trs. of Leland Stanford Junior Univ. v. Roche Molecular Sys., Inc. , 583 F.3d 832, 846–47 (Fed. Cir. 2009),......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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