Friday, August 2, 2019

Are Rule 11 Sanctions Warranted If Plaintiff Names the Wrong Defendants?


RooR International Bv and Sream, Inc (collectively "RooR") have filed dozens (more? - a recent search suggests over 100 such cases) of suits throughout Florida asserting trademark rights for purported counterfeit sales of its water pipes. 

Recently, RooR asserted such claims against Nipa Enterprise, Inc. and and Ashmaul Hosna for such alleged counterfeit sales at their store in 2016.  But Nipa and Hosna did not own the store in 2016.  Indeed, Nipa Enterprise, Inc. was not formed until 2017.  Defendants filed their Rule 11 motion after waiting for the Rule 11 safe harbor period to elapse.

RooR responded by seeking leave to file an Amended Complaint.  That Amended Complaint named different defendants, and no longer named Nipa and Hosna.  The Court then took up Nipa and Hosna's Rule 11 motion.

Nipa and Hosna claim there is no factual basis for the Complaint because they did not own the store when the counterfeit sale happened. (Doc. 34 at 2-3). Rather than deny or disputing this claim, Roor and Sream filed an Amended Complaint identical to the original Complaint, except it replaces Nipa and Hosna with new defendants. (Doc. 38). So Roor and Sream implicitly admit that the new defendants owned the store at the time of the sale—not Nipa and Hosna. On that basis, the Court concludes that the original Complaint was objectively baseless. See Busse v. Lee Cty., Fla., No. 2:07-cv-228-FtM29SPC, 2007 WL 4350863, at *2-3 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 11, 2007) (finding plaintiff’s claim, that defense counsel perpetuated fraud before she was born, objectively baseless)
RooR likely did not help itself by failing to respond to the sanctions motion:

Roor and Sream also should have known that Nipa and Hosna were the wrong parties. See Attwood v. Singletary, 105 F.3d 610, 613 (11th Cir.1997) (per curiam) (“Rule 11 requires [litigants] to make reasonable inquiries into the veracity of information filed before the court[.]”). A simple public record search could have easily fixed the error. Instead, Nipa and Hosna were named defendants for three months. RooR and Sream wasted three months of Nipa’s, Hosna’s, and the Court’s time and resources. And RooR and Sream have failed to respond as to why they did so when given the chance. The Court thus finds sanctions warranted and will award Nipa and Hosna reasonable costs and attorney’s fees. See Donaldson v. Clark, 819 F.2d 1551, 1556 (11th Cir. 1987) (Rule 11 sanctions can be “viewed as a form of cost-shifting, compensating opposing parties injured by the vexatious or frivolous litigation” or “as a form of punishment imposed on those who violate the rule[.]”).
The Court then imposed liability on plaintiffs' counsel to pay defendants' reasonable costs and attorney fees.

Motion for sanctions, granted.
RooR International Bv v. Ullah Business, Inc., Case No. 2:19-cv-222-FtM-38MRM (M.D. Fla. July 31, 2019) (J. Chappell)

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Do You Need To Threaten Litigation To Trigger Declaratory Judgment Subject Matter Jurisdiction?


Erbaviva, LLC, a California LLC, sent a demand letter to Era Organics, a Florida company.  The letter identified a number of Erbaviva federal trademark registrations, and "request[ed]" Era Organics:

  1. Request the USPTO expressly abandon certain Era Organics trademark registrations;
  2. Permanently refrain from using ERA ORGANICS, or any similar mark, in connection with certain goods;
  3. Provide written assurances Era Organics will comply with these "requests"

The letter then concluded:
Provided we receive Era Organics' full and prompt cooperation, as well as confirmation that the above action has been performed, our client is prepared to give Era Organics a reasonable amount of time to transition to a new company name/trademark and sell through its remaining inventory.
The letter demanded compliance within 11 days.

Instead of changing the name it had been using for at least 4 years, Era Organics filed suit, seeking a declaratory judgment that there was no trademark infringement.  Erbabviva sought dismissal, arguing there was no jurisdiction to hear the dispute, as there was no "actual controversy."  Erbabviva argued its letter did not create any such dispute:
Nowhere in the letter did Defendant threaten litigation or suggest that it intended to take any formal action.  To the contrary, Defendant indicated that it was concerned about confusion in the marketplace and expressed a willingness to work with Plaintiff on resolving the dispute informally and amicably.  Plaintiff never responded to Defendant's letter but instead rushed to Court to file the present action.  In doing so, Plaintiff effectively jumped the gun.
The Court was not persuaded:
Defendant's letter described the likelihood of confusion between its products as "substantial" and "perhaps inevitable," and requested that Plaintiff cancel its federal trademarks and "permanently refrain" from using its own mark, among other things.  Dkt. 1, p. 14.  An actual controversy exists.
Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, Denied
Era Organics, Inc. v. Erbaviva, LLC, Case No. 8:18-CV-2219-T-30SPF (M.D. Fla. Jan 4, 2019) (J. Moody)