Larson v. Perry et al. (19-cv-10203).

Sonya Larson sued Dawn Dorland Perry, seeking a declaratory judgment that a story written by Larson did not infringe Perry’s copyright in a similar story, and sued Perry, her attorney and his law firm for defamation and tortious interference with contractual relationships when Larson’s publisher was threatened with a lawsuit if they continued to publish Larson’s story. Perry’s lawyer, Jeffrey Cohen, and his California firm, Cohen Business Law Group, moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, which Judge Talwani denied. She noted that Cohen Law had sent letters to BFF in Cambridge, MA, alleging that Larson’s story plagiarized Perry’s letter and that publication would infringe on Perry’s rights, and threatened statutory damages of up to $150,000 should BFF publish. Larson alleges that this letter knowingly misrepresented both the facts and the law such that it constituted an unfair or deceptive trade practice under Massachusetts law and was designed to interfere with her agreement with BFF. As this behavior was targeted to a Massachusetts company for the purpose of affecting BFF’s business decision. This therefore is sufficient to establish specific personal jurisdiction.

Cohen and his firm also moved for dismissal on the grounds that, as a matter of law, their alleged conduct is shielded by Massachusetts’ litigation privilege. An attorney’s statements in the Commonwealth are absolutely privileged where such statements are made by an attorney engaged in his function as an attorney whether in the institution or conduct of litigation or in conferences and other communications preliminary to litigation. Where the communication is to a prospective defendant, however, the anticipated litigation must be contemplated in good faith, and does not allow a lawyer the freedom to act with impunity. While lawyers cannot be held liable for the contents of their speech, that speech can be used as evidence of misconduct, with the line between the two determined on a case by case basis. In this case, the complaint asserts that the Cohen letter was used to effectuate unlawful ends, rather than looking to establish liability based on the content standing alone, and Judge Talwani determined that the good faith of the Cohen firm could not be determined on the pleadings. Accordingly, she refused to dismiss based on litigation privilege.

Judge Talwani denied Perry’s moved to dismiss on the grounds that defamation was not properly pled and that Larson failed to plead actual malice, a requirement under Massachusetts defamation law when the plaintiff is a limited purpose public figure. The complaint identified instances in which Perry is alleged to have told several writing organizations, Larson’s employer, and a writing organization where Larson sought a fellowship that Larson plagarized her work, providing Perry with enough specificity to mount a defense. Regarding the “limited public figure” issue, Judge Talwani noted that while the issue is one of law, it is inherently fact-specific such that it cannot be determined on the pleadings.

Judge Talwani granted Perry’s motion to dismiss the tortious interference counts. The complaint alleged that, as a result of Perry’s conduct, two publishers decided to pull Larson’s story from their website earlier than call for by the contracts between Larson and the two. Ordinarily, this would be sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Here, however, the two contracts were included as exhibits to the complaint and could thus be fairly considered in determining the motion. In reviewing the contracts, neither included the promises alleged in the complaint that the story actually be published or remain on available for any particular length of time.

As a note, Judge Talwani denied Perry’s request for a hearing on her motion, finding that the coronavirus crisis combined with the Court’s determination that it could properly adjudicate the issue on the papers weighed against a hearing.

FabriClear, LLC v. Harvest Direct, LLC (20-cv-10580).

FabriClear, LLC developed a spray for treating bed bug infestations, and reached an agreement with Harvest Direct by which Harvest would advertise and sell the product, which was known as “FabriClear.” FabriClear asserts that, after several years of complying with the agreements with FabriClear, Harvest began re-labelling the product as “X-Out” and failing to pay FabriClear on sales of the same. FabriClear identifies several examples in which the “X-Out” label was simply superimposed directly over the “FabriClear” label. The complaint further alleges that Harvest essentially copied FabriClear’s label, packaging, website and advertisements for X-Out, including an advertisement in which the FabriClear bottle remained in several segments. FabriClear asserts breach of contract, trade secret misappropriation, and false designation of origin, as well as unfair competition. Magistrate Judge Hillman has the case.

(Note – I filed this complaint on behalf of FabriClear. As I always do when reporting on cases in which I and my firm are involved, I blog about the issues presented in the pleadings or orders, and avoid adding any “insider information.”)

Annis et al. v. Shinbone Alley, Inc. et al. (20-cv-10449).

Christopher Annis was engaged by Shinbone Alley to assist with photography for Shinbone’s planned website. Annis’ work included retouching photographs, work as a digital capture technician set styling and lighting, and photography over the course of several sessions. After delaying payment several times, Shinbone ultimately did not pay Annis for his work. The photographs were, however, put up on Shinbone’s website, www.shinbonealley.com, when it went live. Annis, having registered copyright in seventeen of the photographs, demanded Shinbone cease and desist using the photographs, which Shinbone has not done. Annis asserts copyright infringement, breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, promissory estoppel, quantum meruit and unjust enrichment and breach of M.G.L. c. 93A. The complaint further notes that the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has been given the information to review and that Annis will seek to amend the complaint to add a claim under M.G.L. c. 149 § 150, which relates to requirements for payment of wages, if the Attorney General fails to take action. Judge Young is assigned to the case.

The Art and Creative Materials Institute, Inc. v. Creative Paperclay Company, Inc. (20-cv-10442).

The Art and Creative Materials Institute (“ACMI”) is an association of arts and crafts material manufacturers that provides safety certifications for such materials. It tests materials to ensure that materials that are given the “ACMI Approved Product (AP) Seal” and “ACMI Cautionary Labeling (CL) Seal” are non-toxic and carry appropriate cautionary labels. ACMI obtained a federal registration on the “AP SEAL” mark in 2008. ACMI accuses Creative Paperclay of trademark infringement, counterfeiting, passing off, dilution, breach of contract and unfair competition and violation of 93A in connection with Creative Paperclay’s alleged wrongful use of the ACMI Seals. Creative Paperclay had been a member of ACMI via a Subscription Agreement that governs the terms of membership, including initial and subsequent testing of the materials and payment of annual fees. ACMI asserts that Creative Play was using the AP SEAL mark on products that had not been assessed and approved in a timely fashion and on products that had been tested and decertified.

Foss v. Spencer Brewery (19-cv-40098).

Cynthia Foss sued Spencer Brewery in June 2019, asserting breach of contract and copyright infringement. Judge Hillman granted Spencer’s motion to dismiss on res judicata grounds. Foss had previously sued Spencer Brewery on two separate occasions, asserting the same causes of action. Those cases ended with a judgment on the pleadings in favor of Spencer and dismissal for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. Judge Hillman found that each of these constituted a final decision on the merits, resulting in preclusion of the instant lawsuit.

Chatham v. Canterbury Ventures et al. (17-cv-11473).

Judge Talwani on Thursday adopted Magistrate Judge Cabell’s Report and Recommendation that Canterbury’s motion for summary judgment be denied. Canterbury had moved for summary judgment on Chatham’s copyright, breach of contract, and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, as well as on the availability of specific performance (effectively, forcing transfer of the property to the Chathams) as a measure of damages. Judge Cabell for a variety of reasons had earlier recommended denial of all elements of Canterbury’s motion for the reasons laid out here. Canterbury subsequently switched counsel, and new counsel objected to Judge Cabell’s recommendation. Judge Talwani, however, rejected Canterbury’s objections. She first determined that Canterbury had not raised a specific objection to the recommendation on the copyright claim be denied, and accordingly adopted Judge Cabell’s recommendation that Canterbury’s attempt to scrap the copyright claim be denied. Judge Talwani further found that a reasonable jury could determine that the purchase and sales agreement had been extended as a result of Canterbury’s representations that it continued to operate in accordance with the agreement following the putative termination, and subsequently threatening to terminate, and ultimately unilaterally terminating the agreement when the Chathams refused to pay additional monies not called for by the agreement. She determined that Canterbury’s argument regarding specific performance – that it was unavailable because the Chathams had never proffered payment – was waived for failure to have raised it before. She further noted that, even if the argument hadn’t been waived, Canterbury could not object to any perceived failure of Chatham to proffer payment because a condition of closing was that Canterbury would have a certificate of occupancy, which Canterbury undisputably did not have a certificate of occupancy, rendering any failure to tender the purchase price moot. Judge Talwani finally noted that Canterbury had not disputed that a failure to attempt, in good faith, to construct the house in the time frame set forth by the agreement could result in a breach of duty of good faith and fair dealings. Accordingly, the report and recommendation of Judge Cabell was upheld in its entirety.

I represent the Chathams, along with Nate Harris and John Anastasi of my firm, Lando & Anastasi, along with Paul Mordarski and Jordan Carroll of Morrissey, Hawkins & Lynch. Needless to say, we are very happy with this decision, and look forward to trial.

Sound United, LLC d/b/a Definitive Technology v. Amazon.com seller audio video sales guy (19-cv-12541).

In December, home theater maker Sound United sued Amazon sellers Amazing Deals Online, and a third, unknown seller identified as “Amazon.com seller audio video sales guy” (“AVSG”), accusing each of infringing Sound United trademarks for such products, including DENON, POLK AUDIO, MARANTZ, DEFINITIVE TECHNOLOGY, HEOS, BOSTON ACOUSTICS, and CLASSE while not being authorized resellers of such products. The resellers are further accused of suggesting that a manufacturer’s warranty. Sound United does not assert that the marks are being placed on non-Sound United products; instead, Sound United asserts that the defendants obtained Sound United product from authorized resellers in knowing violation of the resellers’ agreements with Sound United. Sound United asserted trademark infringement, tortious interference with contractual relations, and violation of Ch. 93A.

Sound United, having been unable to find a physical mailing address or business location for the unknown seller AVSG, sought permission to serve that entity using its Amazon.com electronic mail service. Magistrate Judge Cabell granted the motion, noting that under Massachusetts law, when a process servers reports back that after a diligent search he or she cannot find the defendant, the defendant’s last and usual address, or an agent upon whom process may be served, the court may issue an order of notice. He determined that, under the circumstances, service via Amazon was reasonably calculated to prove requisite notice.