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Augstein v. Leslie, 11 Civ. 7512 (HB) (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 17, 2012)

Augstein v. Leslie, 11 Civ. 7512 (HB) (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 17, 2012)

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Fun case involving a "reward offer" posted to YouTube. Court says that just because a reward offer is posted to YouTube doesn't make it any less of an offer.
Fun case involving a "reward offer" posted to YouTube. Court says that just because a reward offer is posted to YouTube doesn't make it any less of an offer.

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Published by: Venkat Balasubramani on Oct 19, 2012
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06/05/2013

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTSOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK---------------------------------------------------------------XARMIN AUGSTEIN, ::Plaintiff, :: OPINION & ORDER-against- :: 11 Civ. 7512 (HB)ANTHONY RYAN LESLIE a/k/a RYAN :LESLIE and NEXTSELECTION, INC., ::Defendants. :---------------------------------------------------------------XHon. HAROLD BAER, JR., District Judge:
Armin Augstein brought this action to collect a reward from Ryan Leslie upon the returnof Leslie’s stolen laptop computer. The laptop was stolen and recovered in Germany andreturned to Leslie in New York. The forum was the subject of an earlier Opinion and Order of this Court, familiarity with which is presumed.
See
 
 Augstein v. Leslie
, No. 11 CIV. 7512 HB,2012 WL 77880 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 10, 2012). Augstein now moves for summary judgment and forsanctions due to the alleged spoliation of evidence by Leslie. The motion is GRANTED in partand DENIED in part.
Background
1
 
Leslie is a musician and NextSelection a company that owns the trademark to Leslie’sname and performances. While on tour in Germany, Leslie’s laptop computer, external harddrive, and certain other belongings were stolen. The laptop contained valuable intellectualproperty, including music and videos related to Leslie’s records and performances. In videos,news articles, and online postings, Leslie stated that he would pay $20,000—later increased to $1million—to anyone who returned his property. After Augstein returned the laptop and hard drive,Leslie refused to pay the reward because, Leslie alleges, the intellectual property for which hevalued the laptop was not present on the hard drive when it was returned. Leslie claims that heand several staff members tried to access the data on the hard drive but were unable to do so.Leslie sent the hard drive to the manufacturer, Avastor, which ultimately deleted the informationprior to sending Leslie a replacement. The circumstances of the return of the hard drive and the
1
The facts are taken from the parties Rule 56.1 statements.
Case 1:11-cv-07512-HB-FM Document 67 Filed 10/17/12 Page 1 of 8
 
2meaning of Leslie’s communications with Avastor are disputed. Augstein claims that Leslie,after he received correspondence from Augstein regarding the collection of the reward, causedthe hard drive to be erased. Augstein now argues the Court should grant him summary judgmenton the issues of the validity of the offer and of the reward and its subsequent acceptance andperformance by Augstein when he returned the laptop to the police in Germany. In connectionwith this motion, Augstein moves pursuant to Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedurefor the Court to, among other things, preclude certain affirmative defenses due to Leslie’s allegedspoliation of the evidence on the hard drive.
Discussion
Augstein argues that Leslie made an offer of a reward for the return of his property andthat Augstein accepted and fully performed when he presented the property to the police inGermany. Leslie responds that a reasonable person would not have understood the mention of the reward to be an offer of a unilateral contract, but instead would have understood it to be anadvertisement—in essence, an invitation to negotiate. And even if it was an offer, Lesliecontinues, Augstein did not perform because he did not return the
intellectual
property, only the
 physical
property. Whether or not the external hard drive, which was subsequently destroyed byAvastor, contained Leslie’s intellectual property is a heavily disputed issue in this case. Augsteinattempts to obviate the question through his request for sanctions against Leslie, specifically, thatLeslie be precluded from arguing that the hard drive did not contain the data in question.
I.
 
Summary Judgment
A district court may not grant summary judgment if there exists a genuine issue of material fact.
See Cotarelo v. Vill. of Sleepy Hollow Police Dep’t 
, 460 F.3d 247, 251 (2d Cir.2006) (citing
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett 
, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23 (1986)). “For summary judgmentpurposes, a ‘genuine issue’ exists where the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could decidein the non-moving party’s favor.”
Cambridge Realty Co., LLC v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins.Co.
, 421 F. App’x 52, 53 (2d Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted). “An offer is themanifestation of willingness to enter into a bargain, so made as to justify another person inunderstanding that his assent to that bargain is invited and will conclude it.” Restatement(Second) of Contracts § 24 (1981). To evaluate the legitimacy of this offer, the court shouldconsider “what an objective, reasonable person would have understood [Leslie’s conduct] toconvey.”
 Leonard v. Pepsico, Inc.
, 88 F. Supp. 2d 116, 127 (S.D.N.Y. 1999).
Case 1:11-cv-07512-HB-FM Document 67 Filed 10/17/12 Page 2 of 8
 
3Leslie mentioned the $20,000 reward for the return of his property in a YouTube videoon October 24, 2010. Pl’s 56.1 ¶ 13; Def’s 56.1 ¶ 13. In the video, Leslie says, “I am offering areward of $20,000.”
 Id.
;
see also
hoogtmz6,
 Ryan Leslie Gets His Laptop Stolen in Germany!Offering $20,000 Reward 
, YouTube (Oct. 26, 2010), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvVPjZ-wvkE. He also implied that the lost property was worth much more than $20,000. Pl’s56.1 ¶ 13; Def’s 56.1 ¶ 13. On November 6, 2010, a video was posted increasing the reward to$1,000,000. Pl’s 56.1 ¶¶ 23, 24; Def’s 56.1 ¶¶ 23, 24. At the end of the video, a message reads,“In the interest of retrieving the invaluable intellectual property contained on his laptop & harddrive, Mr. Leslie has increased the reward offer from $20,000 to $1,000,000 USD.”RyanLeslieTV,
 Ryan Leslie—European Tour and Reward Announcement 
, YouTube (Nov. 6,2010), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8Jf0huEyNU. The increase of the reward waspublicized on Leslie’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, including a post on Twitter which read,“I’m absolutely continuing my Euro tour + I raised the reward for my intellectual property to$1mm” and included a link to the video on YouTube. Pl’s 56.1 ¶¶ 28, 31; Def’s 56.1 ¶¶ 28, 31.News organizations also published reports on Leslie’s reward offer, both in print and online. Pl’s56.1 ¶¶ 32, 33, 35; Def’s 56.1 ¶¶ 32, 33, 35. Finally, Leslie was interviewed on MTV onNovember 11, 2010, and reiterated the $1,000,000 reward, saying “I got a million dollar rewardfor anybody that can return all my intellectual property to me.” Pl’s 56.1 ¶¶ 37; Def’s 56.1 ¶¶ 37.Leslie’s videos and other activities together are best characterized as an offer for areward. Leslie “sought to induce performance, unlike an invitation to negotiate [often anadvertisement], which seeks a reciprocal promise.”
 Leonard 
, 88 F. Supp. 2d at 125 (discussing
Carlill v. Carbolic Smoke Ball Co.,
[1892] 1 Q.B. 256 (Eng.). Offers of reward are “intended toinduce a potential offeree to perform a specific action.”
 Id.
at 126. A reasonable person viewingthe video would understand that Leslie was seeking the return of his property and that byreturning it, the bargain would be concluded. The increase of the reward from $20,000 to$1,000,000, the value of the property lost (in particular the unreleased album) and the newsreports regarding the reward offer would lead a reasonable person to believe that Leslie wasmaking an offer. As such, the video constitutes a valid offer and summary judgment is granted asto that issue. “[I]f a person chooses to make extravagant promises . . . he probably does sobecause it pays him to make them, and, if he has made them, the extravagance of the promises is
Case 1:11-cv-07512-HB-FM Document 67 Filed 10/17/12 Page 3 of 8

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