A motion to dismiss has been filed by the party defending G-Raver and federal lawsuit case between he and Jim Cornette over a T-shirt design that depicts Cornette in unsightly terms.
Deathmatch wrestler G-Raver as well as William Molnar of the wrestling shirt company, Indy Connection, is being defended by Attorney Max Petrunya, who also happens to be a pro wrestler under the name of “The Gavel” David Lawless. The motion to dismiss focuses on protecting the actions of the defendants’ First Amendments rights in which Petruyna states that case law supports their efforts.
Petrunya, whose practice is base out of Pittsburgh, reached out to WrestleZone’s Dominic DeAngelo regarding the motion to dismiss and gave us details regarding the matter.
The introduction to the filing reads as follows:
MEMORANDUM IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO DISMISS
“This is a classic case of “I can dish it out, but I cannot take it.” Plaintiff James “Jim” Cornette has made a living in the professional wresting business through his character being a derisive “thorn in people’s sides.” Plaintiff brings the instant action related to a t-shirt that was sold and distributed by Defendants in response to Plaintiff’s death wish on Twitter of professional wrestler “G-Raver” (Defendant Brandon Graver). For all the forgoing reasons, Plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed in their entirety pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
The motion also goes on to detail the background behind the contention between the two parties of Cornette and G-Raver, stemming from G-Raver’s deathmatch injury back in August of last year. A primary point in the motion to dismiss is that there is a clear distinction between Jim Cornette the individual and Jim Cornette the character, making the latter the parodied target of the tee design.
The section describing the distinction between Cornette the person and Cornette the persona reads as follows:
Currently, Plaintiff Cornette generates income from his wrestling character by writing, podcasting, YouTube videos, social media, a website, autograph signings and appearances, and selling merchandise and memorabilia on his website jimcornette.com. The Jim Cornette character has always been controversial designed to get under people’s skin. Accordingly, while some of the comments made by Plaintiff Cornette on broadcasts, in private, and on social media are despicable and beyond all bounds of human decency, his behavior is not surprising. Plaintiff’s behavior on social media is the reason this lawsuit was filed and sets the stage for the most ironic part of this 58-year-old’s decision to file this specious Federal lawsuit, which is the epitome of “I can dish it out, but I cannot take it.”
The filing goes on to state that the items at issue in Cornette’s lawsuit and their respective statuses are either not being sold by the defendant, not being used by the defendant or have been abandoned by the defendant, rendering Cornette’s requests moot. Those items at issue are as follows:
FJC T-shirt: Defendants no longer sell the shirt and Plaintiff is selling the FJC t-shirt on his own website.
FJC Trademark Application: Defendants have abandoned the trademark application and the trademark for Jim Cornette, FJC, or any other iteration of Jim Cornette. All are currently available for registration.
FJC.com website: Defendants are currently in the process of working with GoDaddy.com to relinquish the domain name for public sale. At the time of filing this lawsuit, Defendants have not used the website for any purpose, commercial or otherwise. This fact is crucial for this Honorable Court’s analysis of the domain name at issue in this matter.
Cornette has also stated in his lawsuit that the actions and items of the defendant has “diluted his brand” and damaged his reputation. Petrunya’s filing claims that Cornette has already diluted his brand and damaged his own reputation in the wrestling world with his previous actions, citing his recent resignation from NWA Powerrr following his controversial joke on commentary as an example of such:
Developments with Plaintiff James “Jim” Cornette regarding “Brand Dilution”
Plaintiff claims that the alleged actions and items by Defendants have “diluted his brand” and damaged his reputation. See ¶ 70, 75, and 79 – 84 of Plaintiff’s Complaint. While it is impossible to prove how the actions of Defendants have “diluted” Plaintiff Cornette’s brand or ruined his reputation, since the creation of the t-shirt and registration of the website at issue, Plaintiff Cornette has done more than enough himself to dilute his brand and damage his reputation in the entertainment industry. More specifically, on November 20, 2019, Plaintiff Cornette was forced to resign as a commentator from “NWA Powerrr,” a YouTube wrestling show broadcast on the internet, due to a racist, culturally, and/or socioeconomically insensitive comment Cornette made on air.
Regarding Plaintiff Cornette’s “brand”, it is unclear the last time Plaintiff participated in a managerial and/or in-ring role in professional wrestling. It is clear though that as an individual who has anointed himself an “expert” on all things professional wrestling and as a wrestling commentator, losing a job due to such comments is the pinnacle example of Plaintiff Cornette engaging in his own brand dilution. For the sake of clarity, Plaintiff Cornette’s resignation from this paying job is in no way connected to the actions of Defendants. Accordingly, should Plaintiff survive on any of his claims in this matter, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for any witness, lay, expert, or otherwise, to provide any credible testimony to prove how the actions of the Defendants have diluted Plaintiff’s brand or caused him any damage. Given the state of the items at issue in this case, coupled with Plaintiff Cornette’s actions subsequent to the t-shirt, trademark, and website issue, this Honorable Court should dismiss this matter in its entirety. Leaving this request aside, Defendants’ First Amendment right to free speech warrants this Honorable Court dismiss this action in its entirety in the pleading stage.
Petrunya’s filing goes on to make a case as to why Cornette’s claims test “legal sufficiency,” citing precedents made by previous cases. Additionally, Petruyna states that Cornette’s attack of G-Raver’s First Amendment rights has “has major implications for individuals using expressive work against Plaintiff’s wrestling character or other characters and celebrities in the future,” and should be dismissed while still in the pleading stage in order to “protect Defendants and potential future individuals and entities from such future harassment as perpetrated by Plaintiff Cornette and his legal team.”
The filing states the Cornette does not own claim to the trademark of “Jim Cornette” citing precedents made in cases involving Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley and The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Cornette is also a celebrity and his opinions and likeness is subject to parody. Part of the filing states “the ultimate irony of this entire case is that by filing this lawsuit, Plaintiff Cornette is effectively indicating that it is not okay for wrestlers to use parody or satire to criticize the Cornette character, but it is perfectly acceptable for Cornette to criticize wrestlers and wrestling shows across the globe.”
Petrunya further details the argument
In this case, Plaintiff Cornette’s character found it appropriate, and possibly his duty as wrestling’s self-appointed “gatekeeper,” to wish death on another wrestler because he doesn’t appreciate or endorse deathmatch wrestling. If Plaintiff is entitled to provide such criticism and commentary, then wrestlers in general, or the wrestler who is criticized specifically, are entitled to expose the weakness of Plaintiff Cornette’s opinions and values through parody. In this case, the vehicle of choice for this parody was an image of bloodied Cornette (similar to how deathmatch wrestlers bleed during matches) with tattoo needles sticking out of his forehead (a signature weapon used by Defendant Graver in his deathmatches). Constraining Defendants’ ability to engage in such parody and satire is unconstitutional and unduly restrictive as “[i]n order to effectively criticize society, parodists need access to images that mean something to people, and thus celebrity parodies are a valuable communicative resource.”
The next point the filing makes is that Cornette cannot provide “likelihood of confusion,” meaning that it would be evident to anyone that Cornette would never endorse such a graphic depiction of himself on the “Fuck Jim Cornette” t-shirt and including “fuck” in front of his name substantiates such an argument made. Also, the fact that Cornette has been selling the design on his own website, renders his claims moot.
“While it is impossible to imagine how anyone could think that Plaintiff Cornette endorsed a shirt with his picture and tattoo needles sticking out of his forehead, Plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed because Plaintiff is currently endorsing the production his own website by selling it, and the Defendants are no longer selling the shirt. Thus, all of Plaintiff Cornette’s claims are moot.”
As far as Cornette’s likeness on the shirt being a point of contention, the filing argues that aspect falls under the “Transformative Use Test,” meaning “even literal reproductions of celebrities can be ‘transformed’ into expressive works based on the context into which the celebrity image is placed.” So in Cornette’s case, the X’s over his eyes, the needles in his head and the tape over his mouth renders his likeness so transformed “that it is not the ‘very sum and
substance of the’ Cornette character that it deserves protection.”
For further information regarding Petrunya and his practice, you can follow his Twitter or visit his website.
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