As part of the deal, Apple will reportedly be more lax on their strict price fix, breaking MP3s into three tiered pricing: Older catalog tracks,79-cents; newer songs, 99-cents; and hit songs, more.
Plaintiffs sought to represent a nation-wide class of buyers of "digital music" on claims that defendant recording companies conspired to artificially fix prices on digital music (both CDs and Internet music). Defendants, the major record labels (EMI, SonyBMG, UMG, anmd Warner) allegedly fixed a high price for, and restrained availability of Internet music - by imposing the same price and use restrictions (i.e., DRM) on their sale thereof - which "buoyed" the price of CDs.
Plaintiffs' second consolidated amended complaint dismissed under the pleading standards of Bell Atlantic v. Twombly. Plaintiffs' first claim was for violation of section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The court concluded it was unreasonable to infer that defendants' adoption of DRM and parallel price arose from their membership in joint ventures that were created to distribute Internet Music. Other circumstantial evidence also did not justify an inference that defendants' parallel conduct resulted from an illegal agreement under the Sherman Act. For example, the court found there was no "antitrust record" based on investigation by government agencies, including the NY Attorney General. Nor would"mere participation in an industry trade association" yield an inference of improper inter-firm communication.
Similarly dismissed as predicated on the same allegations were state antitrust claims, consumer protection claims, and the unjust enrichment count.
Plaintiff sued for over $100 mil. based on six counts: breach of joint venture agreement, breach of fiduciary duty, joint venture accounting, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and quantum meruit. Defendant moved to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) ("...the cause of action may not be maintained because of ... statute of frauds ..."), contending that New York's General Obligations Law prohibits a plaintiff from recovering a finder's fee or other compensation based on services rendered in connection with a corporate acquisition in the absence of a written agreement. (G.O.L. sec. 5-701(a)(10).)
The court disagreed, finding that the statute of frauds provision (id.) does not apply to an oral joint venture agreement "which involves two or more individuals pooling their respective efforts to create and/or operate a business venture as opposed to one person assisting or facilitating another to do so." (See Freedman v. Chemical Const. Corp., 43 N.Y.2d 260 (1977) and other cases cited herein.) Here, plaintiff was not a mere finder or intermediary -- "plaintiff functioned as more than just a broker assisting defendant in a limited and transitory manner".
Nonetheless, plaintiff's claims relating to the joint venture were dismissed because the alleged oral joint venture was too vague to support a joint venture agreement. Though plaintiff alleged that the parties had agreed he would receive a "fair and equitable" share of an amount of money from the alleged oral joint venture, the court found it too uncertain. (Citing Varney v. Ditmars, 217 N.Y. 223 (1916), and Freedman v. Pearlman, 271 A.D.2d 301 (1st Dep't 2000).) "The alleged contract in question is affected by too many facts that are in themselves indefinite and uncertain such that the intention of the parties is pure conjecture." Thus, after finding that the action was "ripe for dismissal" at the pleadings stage, the joint venture claims (and the promissory estoppel claim) were dismissed for vagueness. **
However, the unjust enrichment and quantum meruit claims survived. Based on a legal presumption of a promise to pay a "reasonable value", the court found that whether plaintiff can establish some value for any services actually rendered "must await discovery." Therefore, plaintiff had 20 days to file an answer to the unjust enrichment and quantum meruit claims.
** The court did not clarify under which provision of the CPLR it was granting dismissal of the joint venture and promissory estoppel claims. Although the portions of the decision relating to the statute of frauds clearly relate to defendant's motion under CPLR 3211(a)(5), it appears that dismissal of these counts was based on plaintiff's failure to state a cause of action. Can the court convert a 3211(a)(5) motion into a 3211(a)(7) motion sua sponte, assuming defendant's motion papers were brought only under 3211(a)(5)?
[Custard Corp. v. Warner Music Group Corp.; Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corp.; Elektra Entertainment Group Inc.; Atlantic Recording Corp.; filed 3/4/2008; case no. CV-2170]