Sazerac Brands, LLC et al. v. MS Walker, Inc. (18-cv-11708).

  • August 14, 2018

Mark Saunders, acting pro se, filed suit last summer against the Newton Covenant Church (“NCC”) and a number of individuals who are or were involved with running the NCC.  He asserted copyright infringement in connection with a document that Saunders had prepared and planned to read at a meeting concerning whether the Administrative Commission of the Presbytery of Boston would assume control of the church following the NCC’s relaxation of rules relating to same sex marriage and gay and lesbian ordination. The dispute ultimately led to a schism within the NCC, with some members (including the defendants) splitting away and forming their own church.  Saunders learned that the new church had obtained and copied the document that he had prepared, and had used the letter in attempts to obtain the physical church building and property in a lawsuit filed in state court.  He obtained a copyright registration and filed the complaint without attaching a copy of the document in question.  The gravamen of the complaint was that the breakaway members had used the content of the document in shaping their legal arguments in the property dispute.

Judge Kelley granted Saunders’ motion to proceed in forma pauperis, but sua sponte ordered the plaintiff to show cause as to why its claims should not be dismissed.  She noted that, without having a copy of the document in question before her, she could not assess whether the allegations properly pled infringement of his expression of the ideas as found in the document or whether it really was asserting the use of the underlying ideas themselves, which are not protected by copyright law.

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