The latest round of a legal battle between two well-known fitness figures has resulted in a mixed bag of a ruling this month. On the heels of Tracy Anderson Mind and Body (“Anderson” or “TA”) filing suit against former Tracy Anderson trainer Megan Roup in July for allegedly co-opting its choreography-based fitness routines to start her own fitness firm and breaching an employment agreement she entered into with TA – which bars TA trainers from using or disclosing confidential info, including TA’s “proprietary choreography movements,” even after leaving the company – in the process, a California federal court has dismissed Anderson’s Lanham Act and unfair competition claims (with leave to amend), but has kept the company’s copyright infringement and breach of contract claims against Roup in place.
In response to Tracy Anderson lodging copyright infringement, violation of the Lanham Act, breach of contract, and violation of unfair competition law claims against her, Megan Roup sought to get the complaint tossed out this fall, arguing that, among other things, TA failed to plausibly allege she maintains valid copyrights for her “functional exercise sequences” and that her attempt to enforce the confidentiality provision of the trainer agreement “in such anti-competitive manner constitutes an unenforceable restriction on trade as a matter of law,” which weighs in favor of dismissal. At the same time, The Sculpt Society (“TSS”)-founder also alleged that TA’s suit runs afoul of California’s anti-SLAPP statute, and thus, should be dismissed.
(c) Infringement and Breach of Contract
Copyright infringement – Delving into Roup’s motion to dismiss, C.D. Cal. Judge Ronald Lew quickly punted TA’s copyright infringement claim, in furtherance of which Anderson asserts that Roup infringed its copyrights by publishing videos that are “substantially similar” to the “choreography movements, sequences, and routines; organizational structure and format; and aesthetic elements” depicted in TA’s own copyrighted videos. Roup argued that TA failed to adequately plead its copyright infringement claim because “functional exercise movements are not copyrightable.”
Ultimately, the court agreed with a subsequent argument from TA that an inquiry into the copyrightability of its works is a “factual inquiry not appropriate for determination on a motion to dismiss,” and thus, opted to save this determination for trial.
Breach of contract – The court also refused to dismiss Anderson’s contract claim. By alleging that Roup used and “disclosed its confidential information to third parties, including employees, affiliates, and/or customers of her company, TSS,” and caused TA to “suffer substantial monetary damages” as a result, the court found that Anderson has alleged a plausible breach of contract claim.
False Advertising, Unfair Competition & anti-SLAPP
False advertising – While the court determined that TA alleged all elements of a Lanham Act violation with sufficient particularity, noting the “heightened pleading standard” applied by district courts in the Ninth Circuit for false advertising claims, the court, nonetheless, sided with Roup. Specifically, the court found that the statements at issue – including, “I knew that there was something missing from the boutique fitness community, so I combined my passion for dance and love for fitness to create TSS. I spent years teaching fitness and developing TSS method before launching in 2017.” – constitute non-actionable puffery. Beyond that, the court stated that it is unlikely that a reasonable consumer would rely on such statements as “objective, measurable statement[s] of fact.”
Unfair competition – The court similarly handed Roup a win when it comes to TA’s unfair competition law (“UCL”) claims, finding that TA fails on both prongs of the California law, which prohibits “any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising.” While TA asserts that Roup – a competitor – “engaged in unfair and/or fraudulent business acts and practices” including taking and using TA’s confidential info, and making false and/or misleading statements on its website, it does not argue that Roup’s “alleged misconduct … has effects comparable to a violation of an antitrust law.” (Under the first prong of a UCL test, when a plaintiff alleges unfair business acts/practices, “unfair” is deemed to mean conduct that “significantly threatens or harms competition.”)
TA also fails on the second prong (fraud), per Judge Lew, who asserted that in order to have standing under the fraud prong, a claim must plead “actual reliance by the [party] seeking relief under [the statute].” Here, TA fails to “plead with specificity that they actually relied upon Roup’s alleged misrepresentations.”
Not an all-out win for Roup, though, the court has granted TA leave to amend its false advertising and UCL claims, at which point it will assess Roup’s move to strike the portion of TA’s UCL claim asserting that she engaged in unfair and/or fraudulent business acts and practices by making false or misleading statements in advertising.
And finally, Roup has argued that TA’s UCL claim – which centers on the claims that Roup makes about herself on the TSS website – is “subject to the anti-SLAPP statute because it is based in part on [Roup’s] right to free speech and lacks even minimal merit as a matter of law.” As for the first part of the anti-SLAPP inquiry, the court found that Roup sufficiently made a prima facie showing that the activities at issue are protected conduct. (In order to prevail in on an anti-SLAPP motion, a defendant must make preliminary showing that the plaintiff’s claims “arise from” an “act in furtherance of the defendant’s right of petition or free speech.”)
According to the court, Roup “pled that the challenged written statements are publicly available on a website, and that they regard an issue of public interest because of Roup’s public persona … as a ‘celebrity fitness trainer and influencer’ with a substantial number of customers and a significant social media following.’”
With the second part of the analysis in mind, Megan Roup argued that Tracy Anderson “cannot carry its burden to show a likelihood of prevailing on the portion of the UCL claim” based on her biographical statements, and the court agreed, noting that it already established that TA has not pled a plausible UCL claim. In light of Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)’s “policy favoring liberal amendment,” the court held that it will defer its final ruling on Roup’s anti-SLAPP request until after TA has amended its complaint in light of this order.
The case is Tracy Anderson Mind and Body, LLC, et al. v. Megan Roup, et al., 2:22-cv-04735 (C.D. Cal.)