Monday, November 9, 2015

Are Shotgun Patent Infringement Pleadings Allowed?


The Eleventh Circuit is not a big fan of shotgun pleadings, and neither is the Middle District of Florida.  Christ Tavantzis and Christrikes Custom Motorcycles filed a complaint asserting at least 10 counts against 29 defendants for allegations including alleged patent infringement of U.S. Patent 7,419,024 directed to a wheelchair accessible motorcycle:

It appears the reality show American Chopper built such a bike and the plaintiffs' claims concern allegations that the show stole the idea from the inventor and conspired to profit off of this invention.  TMZ wrote a brief story about the lawsuit here.

The complaint is not without colorful language:
This metaphorical "shoving of the disabled inventor into the darkness of a closet" to bring the light upon themselves is disheartening, pathetic, appalling, distressing, disparaging, offensive, atrocious and utterly intolerable to the reasonable decency of humankind everywhere.
It goes on to allege the following actions violate the plaintiffs' rights:
  1. Building the Bike on National Television to increase [defendants'] public image and sales
  2. Offering the bike for sale on the company website for approximately $45,000, plus customaization fees for additional requests.
  3. Publicly and falsely holding the bike out to be theirs by distributing the images and production concepts through distribution channels "TLC", "Discovery," "CMT" and their parent corporations, partnerships and mass media distribution companies.
  4. Creating an infringing copy that is a dangerous instrumentality and life threatening to the Disabled and the public
It then goes on to allege Counts I through X.  But each count incorporates all allegations previously pleaded.  A number of defendants sought dismissal.  The Court explained the law in the Eleventh Circuit:

The most common type—by a long shot—is a complaint containing multiple counts where each count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts, causing each successive count to carry all that came before and the last count to be a combination of the entire complaint. The next most common type . . . is a complaint . . . replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action. The third type of shotgun pleading is one that commits the sin of not separating into a different count each cause of action or claim for relief. Fourth, and finally, there is the relatively rare sin of asserting multiple claims against multiple defendants without specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against.
quoting Weiland v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1321-23 (11th Cir. 2015) (footnotes omitted).  These shotgun pleadings fail to put the defending parties on adequate notice and must be amended.  Aside from each count incorporating all prior allegations, the Court was also troubled by another issue:

Finally, and what causes the most confusion in this case, Plaintiffs do not identify which counts and factual allegations are alleged against which defendants or which plaintiff brings each count. For example, Plaintiffs’ patent infringement claim references “Defendant” in some paragraphs and “Defendants” in other paragraphs. (Id. ¶¶ 70–75). However, Plaintiffs never name a particular defendant and the Court is left to guess whether Plaintiffs intend to sue one defendant, some of the defendants, or all thirty-one defendants for patent infringement. Further, Plaintiffs never identify which of them brings each count, which can be especially confusing where, as here, one plaintiff is an individual and the other plaintiff is a corporation. For example, as the Complaint currently reads, both Plaintiffs allege claims for ADA discrimination, ADA exclusion, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. However, without an explanation from Plaintiffs, the Court is left to guess whether these counts are brought by the individual plaintiff, the corporate plaintiff, or both, despite the fact that one would presume a corporation could neither be disabled within the meaning of the ADA nor suffer emotional distress. Plaintiffs further exacerbate this confusion by referring to the individual plaintiff and the corporate plaintiff both collectively and interchangeably throughout the Complaint.
As such, plaintiffs must amend their complaint.

Motion to dismiss, granted.
Tavantzis v. American Choppers, Case No. 6:14-CV-1519 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 4, 2015) (J. Byron)