More Cupcakes, LLC v. Lovemore LLC, No. 09 C 3555, Slip. Op. (N.D. Ill. Sep. 29, 2009) (Kocoras, J.)
Judge Kocoras denied defendants (collectively “Lovemore”) Fed. R. Cir. P. 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and Fed. R. Cir. P.12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the individual Lovemore defendants’ (collectively "Lovemore individuals") based upon the fiduciary shield doctrine in this Lanham Act dispute regarding plaintiff More Cupcake’s LOVE MORE mark for use on t-shirts. The Court did, however, grant Lovemore’s §1404 motion to transfer the case to the Eastern District of New York.
The parties agreed that the Court lacked general jurisdiction and argued only specific jurisdiction. The Court held that it had specific jurisdiction based upon the effects test. Lovemore’s alleged infringing acts were aimed at More Cupcakes in Illinois when Lovemore approved sales of allegedly infringing t-shirts to Illinois addresses after being warned of the alleged infringement in a Patent & Trademark Office proceeding and in settlement talks with More Cupcakes. Lovemore’s interactive website coupled with sales to Illinois also created specific jurisdiction. The fact that Lovemore’s most recent Illinois sale was to More Cupcakes’ counsel did not impact the analysis. Lovemore still knowingly sold product within Illinois.
The fiduciary shield doctrine did not apply to the individual defendants, who were both owners and operators of Lovemore. The fiduciary shield doctrine denies personal jurisdiction over individuals who contact Illinois solely for the benefit of their employees and not themselves. But the doctrine does not apply to owners of a company that have discretion over whether or not they do business in Illinois. As Lovemore owners, therefore, the Lovemore individuals are not protected by the fiduciary shield doctrine.
For similar reasons, while corporate officers are generally not personally liable for corporate trademark infringement claims, More Cupcakes’ claims against the Lovemore individuals survived. Both individuals were owners of Lovemore and the Complaint alleged that they personally directed the allegedly infringing acts.
Finally, the Court transferred the case to the Eastern District of New York. While More Cupcakes’ chosen forum deserves deference, the material events regarding the alleged infringement all occurred in New York where the t-shirts were designed, made, offered for sale and sold. And the Court held that the convenience factors, such as locations of documents and witnesses, were all neutral.