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Robinson v. Bartlow

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

November 24, 2013

Charles Robinson, Plaintiff,
v.
Kyle Bartlow, Mariah Gentry, Joeybra LLC, and Does 1-5, Inclusive, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORMAN K. MOON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction (docket no. 7), and Defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue (docket no. 17), as to the individual Defendants Kyle Bartlow, Mariah Gentry, and Does 1-5. A hearing on Plaintiff’s motion took place on July 10, 2012. I declined to rule on Plaintiff’s motion at that time, since Defendants disclosed their intention to move for dismissal or transfer. I stated that I intended to resolve the jurisdictional issues in this case before considering the merits of Plaintiff’s injunction request.

At this point, this Court has received sufficient information to rule on Defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue.[1] Accordingly, I will also resolve Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunctive relief. For the following reasons, I will deny Plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunctive relief, and I will grant Defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction as to the individual Defendants Kyle Bartlow, Mariah Gentry, and Does 1-5.

I. Background

Plaintiff filed this infringement case in May 2012, which stems from a design patent, U.S. Patent D448-541 (the “‘541 Patent”), Plaintiff received in 2001 for a bra design with pockets. Plaintiff became aware of Defendants’ product, the JoeyBra, shortly after Mr. Bartlow and Ms. Gentry entered their concept into a business plan competition held in Washington in April 2012.[2]Plaintiff contends that the JoeyBra features a pocketed design that infringes on his patent, and on June 14, 2012, moved for a preliminary injunction to halt Defendants’ website sales and other promotional activities while this litigation is pending. In his motion, Plaintiff states that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his infringement claim, that an injunction is necessary to prevent irreparable harm, the equities are balanced in his favor, and that public policy favors the granting of a preliminary injunction in this case.

During the July 2012 hearing, Defendants contended that Plaintiff had not shown substantial irreparable harm in this case, as Plaintiff did not have a product for sale on the market. Defendants also addressed the merits of Plaintiff’s infringement claim, arguing that the JoeyBra design is substantially different from Plaintiff’s ‘541 Patent. Given Defendants’ stated intention to move to dismiss this matter on jurisdictional grounds, and the fact that any website sales Defendants made in the meantime could be documented, I declined to rule on Plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction at that time.

Defendants eventually moved to dismiss this matter pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(3) for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue, and on October 3, 2012, I denied Defendants’ motion to dismiss as to the Defendant JoeyBra LLC. However, in light of new information that JoeyBra LLC had three Kickstarter donors from Virginia, and Defendants’ correction of a few prior disclosures, I found that Plaintiff had demonstrated the possibility of supplementing its jurisdictional allegations through additional information.[3] Accordingly, I granted Plaintiff’s request for further discovery.

As mentioned, despite Judge Crigler’s December 29, 2012 discovery deadline, during the status hearing on March 4, 2013, Plaintiff stated that he wishes to obtain further information from Defendants. Plaintiff noted that Ms. Gentry provided a link to her Facebook account on the Kickstarter page for JoeyBra LLC as a means for potential backers to contact the Defendants, and stated that he is still seeking details regarding communications Defendants had with Virginia donors, as well as surveys that Virginia donors allegedly submitted. In response, Defendants stated that they had provided all the information readily available to them at this time, and that more specific questions were better suited for a deposition.

II. Legal Standard

A. Preliminary Injunction

Under 35 U.S.C. § 283, a patentee may seek a preliminary injunction against an alleged infringer. The law of the Federal Circuit governs preliminary injunctions in patent cases, see Hybritech, Inc. v. Abbott Labs., 849 F.2d 1446, 1451 n.12 (Fed. Cir. 1988), and the issuance of an injunction is a matter largely within the discretion of the trial court. Titan Tire Corp. v. Case New Holland, Inc., 566 F.3d 1372, 1375 (Fed. Cir. 2009).

To obtain a preliminary injunction, Plaintiff must show: (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) he is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent preliminary relief, (3) the balance of equities is in his favor, and (4) an injunction is in the public’s interest. Id. at 1375-76 (citing Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20, 129 S.Ct. 365, 374 (2008)). “[C]ourts considering whether to impose preliminary injunctions must separately consider each Winter factor, ” Pashby v. Delia, 2013 WL 791829, at *8 (4th Cir. March 5, 2013), and the burden of proof is on the patentee, as it would be at trial. AstraZeneca LP v. Apotex, Inc., 633 F.3d 1042, 1050 (Fed. Cir. 2010); Titan Tire, 566 F.3d at 1376 (“In assessing whether the patentee is entitled to the injunction, the court views the matter in light of the burdens and presumptions that will inhere at trial.”) (citation omitted).

B. Personal Jurisdiction

As with preliminary injunctions, in a patent infringement case, “the law of the Federal Circuit . . . determine[s] personal jurisdiction.” Rates Tech. Inc. v. Nortel Networks Corp., 399 F.3d 1302, 1307 (Fed. Cir. 2005). At this stage, “the burden on plaintiff is simply to make a prima facie showing of a sufficient jurisdictional basis in order to survive the jurisdictional challenge.” Combs v. Bakker, 886 F.2d 673, 676 (4th Cir. 1989). Furthermore, “all factual disputes must be resolved in [the plaintiff’s] favor in order to evaluate its ...


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