Beaulieu v. Stockwell et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER - Defendant Charles Sanvik's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 54 ) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as outlined below: 1. Consistent with the Court's Memorandum Opinion, the Court DISMISSES WITHOUT PREJUDI CE Plaintiff's claim in the Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 47 ) for tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage against Defendant Sanvik. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint with respect to this claim. 2. The remainder of Defendant Sanvik's Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. (Written Opinion) Signed by Judge Donovan W. Frank on 2/14/2018. (las)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Allen Beaulieu, individually and d/b/a Allen
Civil No. 16-3586 (DWF/HB)
OPINION AND ORDER
Clint Stockwell, an individual; Studio 1124,
LLC, a Minnesota limited liability company;
Thomas Martin Crouse, an individual; Charles
Willard “Chuck” Sanvik, an individual and
Does 3 through 7,
Alexander Farrell, Esq., and Russell M. Spence , Jr, Esq., Hellmuth & Johnson PLLC,
counsel for Plaintiff.
George R. Serdar, Esq., John R. Beattie, Esq., and Kevin D. Hofman, Esq., Messerli &
Kramer P.A., counsel for Defendants Clint Stockwell, Charles Sanvik, and Studio 1124,
Michael M. Sawers, Esq., Briggs & Morgan, PA, counsel for Defendant Thomas Crouse.
The plaintiff in this case photographed the artist Prince and then sought to publish
those photos. The defendants, under the guise of helping the plaintiff, took those photos,
but instead are trying to sell them without the plaintiff. This matter is before the Court on
a motion to dismiss from one of the defendants. For the reasons discussed below, the
Court grants in part and denies in part the motion.
Plaintiff Allen Beaulieu photographed the artist Prince and copyrighted the photos
in 1984. Recently, Beaulieu decided to publish a book of his Prince photographs. In his
efforts to complete the project, Beaulieu gave Defendant Clint Stockwell forty-two of the
photographs. Later, under the guise of speeding up the scanning process, Stockwell and
Defendant Crouse took approximately 3,000 photos from Beaulieu. 1 Defendants are now
trying to sell the photos and refuse to return them. Beaulieu alleges that Defendant
Sanvik (the movant here) was asked to finance the project by the other Defendants.
(Doc. No. 47 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶ 62.) Additionally, Beaulieu alleges that Sanvik has some
of the photos and that Sanvik is working in concert with the other Defendants to withhold
the photos from Beaulieu. (Id. ¶¶ 85, 87.)
When Defendants ignored Beaulieu’s repeated requests to return the photos, 2
Beaulieu filed suit alleging a number of claims. As relevant here, Beaulieu has brought
claims against Sanvik for conversion, tortious interference with a prospective economic
advantage, and injunctive relief. Sanvik now moves the Court to dismiss for failure to
state a claim.
At argument, Plaintiff stated that he has now discovered that Defendants took over
Defendants contend that they have return all of the photos, but the Court cannot
resolve that issue on a motion to dismiss.
In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court assumes all facts in
the complaint to be true and construes all reasonable inferences from those facts in the
light most favorable to the complainant. Morton v. Becker, 793 F.2d 185, 187 (8th
Cir. 1986). In doing so, however, a court need not accept as true wholly conclusory
allegations, Hanten v. Sch. Dist. of Riverview Gardens, 183 F.3d 799, 805 (8th
Cir. 1999), or legal conclusions drawn by the pleader from the facts alleged, Westcott v.
City of Omaha, 901 F.2d 1486, 1488 (8th Cir. 1990). A court deciding a motion to
dismiss may consider the complaint, matters of public record, orders, materials embraced
by the complaint, and exhibits attached to the complaint. See Porous Media Corp. v. Pall
Corp., 186 F.3d 1077, 1079 (8th Cir. 1999).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007). Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations,” it must
contain facts with enough specificity “to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Id. at 555. As the Supreme Court reiterated, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements
of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,” will not pass muster
under Twombly. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 555). In sum, this standard “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation
that discovery will reveal evidence of [the claim].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. 3
Sanvik moves to dismiss Beaulieu’s claim for conversion. To prevail on a
conversion theory, a plaintiff must show that the defendant committed “an act of willful
interference with personal property, ‘done without lawful justification by which any
person entitled thereto is deprived of use and possession.’” DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566
N.W.2d 60, 71 (Minn. 1997) (citing Larson v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., 32 N.W.2d
649, 650 (Minn. 1948)). To constitute conversion, interference must be either permanent
or must last “for an indefinite length of time.” Bloom v. Hennepin Cnty., 783 F. Supp.
418, 441 (D. Minn. 1992); Hildegaarde v. Wright, 70 N.W.2d 257, 269 (Minn. 1955).
Sanvik argues that Beaulieu’s claim fails because Minnesota law does not
recognize a claim for conversion of intellectual property. Sanvik cites to Jacobs v.
Gradient Insurance Brokerage, Inc., in which an employee e-mailed herself copies of
confidential information. Civ. No. 15-3820, 2016 WL 1180182, at *1 (D. Minn. Mar. 25,
2016). The court dismissed the employer’s conversion claim because the employee did
not deprive the employer of the use of the information. Id. at *3.
Here, in contrast, Defendants have deprived Beaulieu of the physical copies of the
photos. While Beaulieu alleges that Sanvik received copies via e-mail (Am. Compl.
In his opposition, Beaulieu submitted examples of the Prince photos, e-mails
between Defendants, text messages between the parties, and a transcript of a call between
Sanvik and Beaulieu’s attorney. (Doc. No. 59.) Sanvik argues that the documents are
not properly before the Court. Because the documents are not necessary to resolve
Sanvik’s motion, the Court declines to consider them.
¶ 50), Beaulieu also alleges that Sanvik is in possession of some of the physical photos
and is working concert with the other Defendants to withhold the photos from Beaulieu
(id. at ¶¶ 85, 87). At this stage of the litigation, such allegations are sufficient. 4 Thus, the
Court denies Sanvik’s motion to dismiss the conversion claim.
Next, Sanvik seeks to dismiss Beaulieu’s claim for tortious interference with a
prospective economic advantage. The elements for such a claim are:
1) The existence of a reasonable expectation of economic advantage;
2) Defendant’s knowledge of that expectation of economic advantage;
3) That defendant intentionally interfered with plaintiff’s reasonable
expectation of economic advantage, and the intentional interference is
either independently tortious or in violation of a state or federal statute or
4) That in the absence of the wrongful act of defendant, it is reasonably
probable that plaintiff would have realized his economic advantage or
5) That plaintiff sustained damages.
Gieseke ex rel. Diversified Water Diversion, Inc. v. IDCA, Inc., 844 N.W.2d 210, 219
(Minn. 2014). To state a claim, “the plaintiff must identify a specific third party with
whom the defendant tortiously interfered.” Id. at 221.
Sanvik contends that the conversion claim fails because Beaulieu fails to allege
how the photos went from Stockwell to Sanvik. But it is enough that Plaintiff alleges that
Stockwell took the photos and that Sanvik is now in possession of those photos. Cf.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 230 (“A bailee, agent, or servant who receives the
possession of a chattel for storage, safekeeping, or transportation on behalf of his bailor,
principal, or master, is subject to liability for conversion if, but only if, he does so with
knowledge or reason to know that a third person has the right to immediate possession of
Here, Beaulieu does not identify any specific third party. Instead, Beaulieu
contends that Defendants interfered with a specific project—a book of Prince photos.
But courts have dismissed claims for unique business opportunities unless a specific third
party is identified. Unity Healthcare, Inc. v. Cty. of Hennepin, Civ. No. 14-114, 2014
WL 6775293, at *14 (D. Minn. Dec. 2, 2014) (dismissing a tortious interference claim for
failure to identify a specific third party); see also Majerus v. Huyser, Civ. No. A15-1248,
2016 WL 3042995, at *5 (Minn. Ct. App. May 31, 2016) (affirming the grant of
summary judgment for a tortious interference claim against a person speaking too loudly
at an auction because the plaintiff could not identify a third party who would have bid but
for the loud talking). Because Beaulieu does not identify a third party with whom Sanvik
interfered, the Court dismisses that claim, but without prejudice and with leave to
Finally, Sanvik moves to dismiss Beaulieu’s claim for injunctive relief on the
premise that Plaintiff’s underlying torts should be dismissed. Because some of
Beaulieu’s claims survive, the Court denies Sanvik’s motion to dismiss the injunction
At argument, Plaintiff contended that he was in discussions with a specific
publisher for a book project but that project fell through once Defendants took the photos.
None of those facts was alleged in the Amended Complaint, however, and such facts are
necessary to state a claim for tortious interference with a prospective economic
Based on the files, record, and proceedings herein, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED
that Defendant Charles Sanvik’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. ) is GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART as outlined below:
Consistent with the Court’s Memorandum Opinion, the Court DISMISSES
WITHOUT PREJUDICE Plaintiff’s claim in the Amended Complaint (Doc. No. )
for tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage against Defendant
Sanvik. The Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint with respect to this
The remainder of Defendant Sanvik’s Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. 6
Dated: February 14, 2018
s/Donovan W. Frank
DONOVAN W. FRANK
United States District Judge
The Court believes that it is in the best interests of the parties to settle this case. If
the parties would like the Court’s assistance in pursuing a settlement, they may contact
the Magistrate Judge’s chambers to schedule a conference.
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