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Beau Rivage Resorts, Inc. v. Bel Aire Productions, Inc., et al.

A federal district court in Mississippi held that a choreographer’s cease and desist letter sent to a Mississippi resort that planned on staging a production allegedly based on her work was immune from state law claims for interference with business relations.

The choreographer sent a cease and desist letter to the resort after she saw advertisements for the resort’s planned production that said it was from the “creative virtuoso responsible for” Red Dream and Krasnaya, two works created by the choreographer. The resort filed a declaratory action against the choreographer about ownership of the production; the choreographer counter-claimed for, among other things, breach of contract, conversion, defamation and interference with business relations. The resort counter-claimed for interference with business relations based on the cease and desist letter.

The choreographer moved for summary judgment relating to the resort’s counter-claim, arguing that her cease and desist letter was pre-litigation activity protected by the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. Although courts have applied the Noerr-Pennington doctrine to protect parties from antitrust prosecution when those parties have petitioned the government for favorable governmental action, the Mississippi Supreme Court explicitly recognized its applicability to state law claims. In Mississippi, the Noerr-Pennington doctrine precludes liability for tort claims such as tortious interference with contractual relations and applies to pre-litigation actions, as long as there is some reasonable basis for the asserted claim.

The resort argued that the choreographer’s cease and desist letter was objectively unreasonable because she had not seen the resort’s production before she sent the letter, but the court disagreed, and dismissed the counter-claim, noting that the choreographer did see the resort’s advertisements for the production stating that it was from the same creator of two popular shows created by the choreographer.