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Indy skyline photo suit against Purdue official dismissed

July 17, 2017

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit against a Purdue University official who was accused of copyright infringement by an attorney who has sued hundreds of people and entities for publishing his photos of the Indianapolis skyline. 

District Judge Richard Young on Monday dismissed McCordsville attorney Richard Bell’s lawsuit against Jason Henderson, director of extension services at Purdue. The suit was filed in the federal court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis after Bell discovered in 2016 that a copyrighted photo he took had been published without authorization in a Purdue Extension presentation entitled “Keeping Cattle in the Books.”

Young ruled that the true defendant in the action, though, remained Purdue, an entity of the state that enjoys immunity from such a suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Bell amended his complaint to name Henderson in his individual capacity after first naming Purdue, then Purdue President Mitch Daniels, as defendants.

“This conspicuous chain of events certainly suggests that Bell is trying to find a way to lawfully sue Purdue,” Young wrote. Bell’s second amended complaint “repeatedly frames its allegations against Henderson in terms of his authority over Purdue employees. Additionally, the sole cause of action against Henderson arises out of a copyrighted photo that appears on a website owned by Purdue.

“… The court fails to see how Henderson could have profited from distributing the ‘Keeping Cattle in the Books’ presentation,” Young wrote in Richard N. Bell v. Jason Henderson, 1:16-cv-2488. “… Accordingly, the Eleventh Amendment bar applies here.” Young left open the option for Bell to file a third amended complaint if he wishes to seek an injunction.

“Bell may no longer be interested in continuing this litigation now that monetary damages are off the table,” the judge wrote. “But if he does wish to pursue injunctive relief, he should be given that opportunity.”

Bell also has sued Indiana University after learning that the IU School of Medicine used one of his photos on a web page for its pediatrics residency program. Bell later amended his suit against IU to name Jay L. Hess, dean of the school of medicine, in his individual capacity.

In answering that complaint in late June, Hess also claimed immunity under the Eleventh Amendment along with 21 other affirmative defenses. That case before Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is Richard N. Bell v. Jay L. Hess, 1:16-cv-2463.

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