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Sometimes the statute of limitations for a federal law will vary from state to state. Since Congress never specified a statute of limitations for the Cable Act, several federal judges have held that the appropriate time limit for filing suit should be three years — the same limit imposed in the federal Copyright Act. But as federal Judge Berle M. Schiller of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania sees it, while those courts may be right for their own jurisdictions, a federal judge sitting in Pennsylvania should impose a two-year statute of limitations since Pennsylvania has its own anti-cable piracy law that is a perfect analog to the federal Cable Act. Schiller’s decision in Kingvision Pay-Per-View Ltd. v. 898 Belmont Inc. dismisses a suit against the owners of a tavern that allegedly showed the March 1999 heavyweight boxing match between Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis without paying any fee. The suit alleged that the El Toro Bar intercepted the closed-circuit scrambled transmission with an “illegal decoding device.” But Schiller found that since Kingvision filed the suit more than two years after the event, it was too late. “The El Toro Bar scores an early-round win by technical knockout,” Schiller wrote. In his six-page opinion, Schiller sided with defense attorney Donald M. Moser, who argued that Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations should apply to the Cable Act. “When Congress fails or declines to specify a statute of limitations, generally, we presume that Congress intended courts to apply the most closely analogous state statute of limitations,” Schiller wrote. The U.S. Supreme Court, Schiller said, has instructed that when federal judges are forced to borrow a statute of limitations, “state law is the established ‘lender of first resort,’ although in limited circumstances courts may look to analogous federal law.” And in another piece of advice on the same subject, Schiller said, the justices advised federal judges to reject a state statute of limitations only when “a rule from elsewhere in federal law clearly provides a closer analogy than available state statutes, and when the federal policies at stake and the practicalities of litigation make that rule a significantly more appropriate vehicle for interstitial lawmaking.” As a result, Schiller concluded that in Pennsylvania, the Cable Act should carry the same two-year statute of limitations as � 910, the state law that prohibits the interception of transmissions, signals or services over any cable television or satellite distribution system. “Section 910 and the Cable Act embody nearly identical frameworks of penalties and remedies,” Schiller wrote. “Like the Cable Act, Section 910 includes criminal sanctions. Additionally, Section 910′s civil remedies parallel those set forth in the federal statutes; under either Pennsylvania or federal law a plaintiff can seek injunctive relief, statutory or actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs,” Schiller wrote. The two laws also have similar civil remedies, Schiller found. “Even the monetary amounts set forth as statutory damages under section 910 and the Cable Act are parallel,” Schiller found, noting that both laws allow for awards of statutory damages between $250 and $10,000 per occurrence absent evidence of exceptional circumstances. As a result, Schiller concluded that “Pennsylvania law provides a remarkably close analog to the Cable Act, rendering the imposition of a two-year limitations period appropriate.” Kingvision’s lawyers, Ronald J. Harper and Sharon Nadine Harvey of Philadelphia’s Harper & Paul, argued that Schiller should follow decisions from federal judges in the Northern District of Illinois, the Southern District of Texas and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that applied the three-year statute of limitations found in the federal Copyright Act. But Schiller found that none of the prior decisions was helpful since the state laws at issue were not as perfectly comparable to the Cable Act as Pennsylvania’s � 910. In each one of the decisions, Schiller said, the court opted not to borrow the statute of limitations for a state law conversion claim. “Thus, the cases relied upon by Kingvision address the appropriateness of borrowing the Copyright Act’s limitations period when compared to the limitations period for the widely applicable law of conversion,” Schiller wrote. “Consequently, these cases do not predict the proper outcome of the case at bar involving a state statute narrowly crafted to deter cable piracy,” he wrote. Since � 910 is “parallel in substance and form” to the Cable Act, Schiller found that it is “the ‘closer fit’ the Supreme Court contemplated as the appropriate source from which to borrow a statute of limitations.”

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