On May 28, 2005, the Championship boxing match between Julio Cesar Chavez and Ivan Robinson was aired as a closed-circuit “pay per view” event, available only to those who had purchased authorization to access and broadcast it. Special licensing requirements were imposed on commercial establishments who planned to publicize and broadcast the event in their theaters, arenas, bars, clubs and restaurants. Steps were also taken to prevent unauthorized use by those who didn’t purchase a license or obtain permission to access the event. The transmission of the event was electronically coded, or “scrambled”, requiring decoding with electronic decoding equipment in order for the signal to be clearly received and telecasted.
On the evening of the match, a Tarrant County business known as “Playmates” broadcast the boxing match to its patrons without obtaining a license to do so, violating federal cable piracy laws. Although J&J Sports Productions, the broadcast licensee of the Chavez/Robinson match, discovered this violation fairly quickly thereafter, they waited three and a half years to file a lawsuit.
On December 30, 2008, the lawsuit was filed in the 352nd District Court of Tarrant County. In the lawsuit, J&J sought damages of approximately $200,000, plus attorney’s fees. They also sought a permanent injunction to prevent any further exhibition of unauthorized or unlicensed broadcasts by Playmates.
Approximately a year after the suit was filed, Playmates filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that J&J had waited too long to bring their action and that the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations. The crux of the summary judgment dispute that presented itself to Judge Bonnie Sudderth was whether the federal 4-year statute of limitations would apply to the case, or whether the 2-year Texas statute of limitations would apply.
Judge Sudderth ruled that Texas’ 2-year statute of limitations applied to the dispute. In her ruling, Judge Sudderth explained that by choosing to file the lawsuit in state court, rather than federal court, J&J removed the binding effect of U.S. Fifth Circuit precedent, and, therefore, state law should apply. Therefore, even though Playmates had violated federal cable piracy laws, J&J waited too long to complain about it, and the lawsuit was dismissed.
Judge Sudderth’s decision was affirmed on appeal on September 23, 2010.