Articles Posted in Litigation

Leisure Time Travel, Inc., specializes in “producing holiday tours and vacations that comport with Jewish law and tradition.” Villa Roma claims to be the last resort in the Catskills region.

In 2001, the parties entered into a contract whereby Villa Roma would be rented for five Passover holidays, from 2002 through 2006. In 2005, the parties extended the contract for five years, through 2011.

The agreement called for Leisure Time to take over the hotel approximately one week before Passover. The day before Passover in 2006, a fire destroyed the hotel. The hotel refused to return Leisure Time’s $220,000 down payment. When Villa Roma reopened in late 2008, Leisure Time contacted Villa Roma to book the hotel for the 2009-2011 Passover holidays. Villa Roma refused to allow Leisure Time to book the hotel claiming that the fire rendered the parties’ contract impossible to perform thus terminating it. Leisure Time sued claiming that it was entitled to the return of its deposit paid in 2006 and to use the hotel under the terms of the parties’ agreement.

Land O’ Lakes Outdoors, Inc. and Land O’ Lakes Tackle Co., Inc., began their business selling fishing tackle in a Wisconsin town called Land O’ Lakes, a region “dotted” with lakes attractive to fishermen. Since 1997, these businesses sold fishing tackle to retailers in a number of states.  In 2000, they received federal trademark registration for the mark LAND O LAKES in connection with fishing tackle.

Land O’ Lakes, Inc., based in the adjoining state of Minnesota, sells dairy products (“Land O’ Lake Dairy”) under its registered trademark LAND O LAKES.

In 1997, Land O’ Lakes Dairy became a sponsor for a sport-fishing tournament called the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and advertised its dairy products in fishing magazines. Three years later, after learning that the tackle companies had registered the mark for their tackle, Land O’ Lakes Dairy sent a cease and desist letter to the tackle companies, claiming that its mark was “famous” as it was in use since the 1920s, well before the tackle companies were formed or began selling their products. The tackle companies refused to cooperate with Land O’ Lakes Dairy, and a lawsuit, commenced by the tackle companies, ensued.

In July 2000, Citibank extended a $54,000 loan to a condominium owner, with an additional $38,000 loan extended the next year. These two loans were consolidated into one loan for a total of $92,000. Some seven years later, the condominium board filed a common charges lien against the unit.

In 2010, the plaintiff bought the unit for $15,100 at a foreclosure auction, subject to the “first mortgage of record against the premises.” The new owner sued Citibank seeking to have the second loan of $38,000 declared subordinate to the common charges lien and thus discharged when the unit was bought at auction. The trial court found that the entire consolidated loan was valid and the purchaser at auction had purchased the unit subject to the consolidated loan. After the Second Department affirmed, the purchaser appealed to the Court of Appeals.

In affirming, the Court of Appeals noted that lien priority was normally determined by the “chronology of recording.” However, in a case that deals with a condominium board’s common charges lien, the law excludes the “‘first mortgage of record.’” While acknowledging that case law existed that could be read to take the exception of the first mortgage literally, it refused to accept the buyer’s argument.

A buyer of real property that sued the seller before the parties’ closing date seeking to cancel the contract, but without a valid reason, was deemed to have breached that contract.

The buyer entered into a contract to buy two parcels of land in Staten Island. The contract was to close 30 days after the seller obtained certain regulatory approvals, but not later than 18 months from the contract date. If the approvals could not be obtained either party could terminate the contract or seek to renegotiate the purchase price, without obligation to close.

Because the approvals were delayed, the seller opted to terminate the contract and return the downpayment unless the buyer agreed to modify the contract. The contract was modified to extend the deadline to close, increase the price, and have the buyer reimburse the seller for certain costs incurred in doing the work that would release the regulatory approvals. The parties also agreed that the buyer would not sue the seller if the approvals could not be timely delivered. Believing that the approvals were forthcoming, the parties extended the closing deadline. Before that newly extended closing deadline, the buyer sued the seller seeking to cancel, or rescind, the contract. The seller counterclaimed claiming that the buyer’s lawsuit, by which it announced that it would not close and sought to cancel the contract, was itself a default entitling the seller to keep the buyer’s substantial downpayment. After the buyer’s lawsuit for rescission was dismissed, the seller pursued its counterclaim for the downpayment.

A supplier was found liable for selling counterfeit Fendi handbags, and after two separate lawsuits was obligated to Fendi and a retailer to whom those fake bags were sold for substantial damages. In an attempt to avoid paying those damages, the supplier turned to its insurance carrier for indemnification, based on a policy that insured the supplier against “advertising injury.”

In affirming the lower court in finding that there was no coverage for the Fendi infringement, the Second Circuit went through an instructive discussion of what advertising injury means, and what that coverage was intended to address. The court explained that New York law was clear that where policy language was ambiguous, it would be construed in favor of the insured. At the same time, the “plain language” of the policy is read in “common speech” and as reasonably expected or understood in the business community. For coverage to be found for advertising injury, the injury must have taken place as part of advertising activities and address items covered by the policy. Therefore, no coverage would be found where liability arose out of the importation, distribution or sale of infringing goods. On the other hand, a policy that covered injury from goods that were “‘marketed, distributed and sold,’” could provide coverage, at least to defend the infringement lawsuit.

In this case, the policy covered an injury arising out of (i) “oral or written publication of material that slanders or libels a person or organization or disparages a person’s or organization’s goods, products or services; (ii) oral or written publication of material that violates a person’s right of privacy; (iii) the use of another’s advertising idea in your ‘advertising;’ and (iv) infringement of another’s copyright, trade dress or slogan in your ‘advertising.’” Items (i) and (ii) were not alleged to apply, but (iii) and (iv) were. In denying coverage, the court held that the requirement that the action take place “in your advertising” required that the infringement be part of the advertisement. Here, the supplier did not advertise at all and Fendi made no claim of infringement or injury that arose out of any advertising. Injury was alleged out of sales. Thus, the supplier could not avail itself of coverage.

During or after a divorce, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant had terminated a joint annuity account and withdrawn the money, leaving him with a $37,000 tax liability.

The defendant moved for summary judgment dismissing the case, claiming that when the plaintiff agreed to enter into joint annuity contract, he “necessarily assumed the risk of pecuniary injury.”

The Second Department rejected that argument, finding that the assumption of risk argument was limited to claims involving “athletic or recreational activities.”

Following our last article about “use” and its relationship with the trademark application process, another case we came across further illustrates this concept, albeit in a more limited manner.

Weld-Tech and Aquasol Corp. both sell a plumbing apparatus called “EZ-Purge.” After Aquasol filed for and received trademark registration for the EZ-PURGE mark, Weld-Tech sued claiming that it was the first to use that mark, although without trademark protection, and that Aquasol’s use infringed on Weld-Tech’s common-law trademark, obtained through Weld-Tech’s use. Weld-Tech argued that even if Aquasol had obtained a trademark registration, Weld-Tech’s prior use entitled it to some protection so long as the mark was eligible for registration.

The timing was as follows: Weld-Tech began marketing its product in late 2003 or early 2004 and made its first sale in late 2004. It filed a patent application in March 2004. On April 30, 2004, Aquasol filed a trademark application, based on Aquasol’s intent to use the mark in commerce. The question before the court was which party had priority over the mark, Weld-Tech’s common-law use or Aquasol’s intent to use application.

NBTY, Inc. is a manufacturer and seller of vitamins and nutritional products. Piping Rock Health Products, LLC is a competitor run by NBTY’s former CEO. Between the end of 2014 and the middle of 2015, a number of high-level NBTY employees resigned and went to work at Piping Rock. In 2011, while already employed, these individuals signed stock-option/trade secret agreements with Alphabet Holding Company, Inc., NBTY’s parent. Under these agreements, the individuals were (i) able to purchase a number of shares of the common stock of Alphabet, vesting over a period of time, and (ii) learn NBTY’s trade secrets. These agreements also contained restrictive covenants prohibiting the individuals from competing with NBTY for a one-year period following the end of their employment with NBTY and from revealing any of NBTY’s business secrets. After they resigned and went to Piping Rock, NBTY sued to enforce these individuals’ non-compete agreements.

Judge Emerson, sitting in the Commercial Division of Suffolk County, refused to enforce the non-compete provision. The court considered Delaware law (as provided for in the parties’ agreements but noted that it largely tracked New York law), and found that the non-compete restrictions were not supported by valid consideration. This meant that these individuals received no additional benefit for agreeing not to compete and the agreements were therefore not enforceable against them. NBTY argued that the options and access to NBTY’s trade secret were sufficient consideration. The court disagreed and stated that there was no evidence that these individuals did not have access to these secrets before they signed, and the options expired, unexercised, 90 days after they left NBTY. Thus, the court held that because the individuals had a choice between their continued employment with NBTY and exercising their benefits, or foregoing those benefits and competing, which they did, resulted in the individuals receiving no benefit in exchange for the non-compete agreements. The court noted further that while Delaware law allows consideration to be in the form of continued employment, the language of the agreements with NBTY specifically provided that NBTY made no promise of continued employment.

Finally, the court also invalidated the non-compete agreements, finding that they were overbroad in restraining competition in North America, Europe and China.

In 2005, a property owner borrowed $452,000 with which to buy a residential property. After the borrower’s default, that lender assigned the loan to HSBC. HSBC commenced a foreclosure action which was dismissed in 2007 for failure to serve the borrower. HSBC waited until 2009 to file a second foreclosure action. That action was conditionally dismissed in 2012 because HSBC had not shown proof that a Notice of Default had been served upon the borrower, as required by the loan documents. The conditional dismissal allowed HSBC 60 days within which to provide the required proof, or the case would be dismissed automatically. In 2013, noting that no such proof had been filed with the court, the second foreclosure lawsuit was formally dismissed. In 2014, the borrower sold the property to plaintiff, Ellery Beaver, LLC. Fourteen months after the case was dismissed, HSBC sought its restoration against the borrower. The court denied HSBC’s request.

Thereafter, Ellery Beaver, LLC sought a court order discharging HSBC’s mortgage claiming that the statute of limitations for a foreclosure action to be commenced had expired and the property should not be encumbered by an unenforceable lien. HSBC argued in opposition that because the first lawsuit was dismissed for failure to serve the borrower the time period to sue could not have commenced when that first lawsuit was filed. The Court disagreed, finding that the date of service was not relevant to the statute of limitations consideration. What mattered was the date when HSBC accelerated the loan, which could not have been later than when HSBC commenced the first foreclosure action, in 2005. Thus, the six year limitation period expired in 2012, six years from 2005, and HSBC’s loan would be discharged and the mortgage canceled.

Ellery Beaver, LLC v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A.

Gerald L. Cohen, D.D.S sought to force Cablevision to disclose the identity of an individual who posted negative comments to Yelp.com. Cohen intended to use that information to commence a lawsuit for defamation against the poster. Previously, Yelp.com had been compelled to provide to Cohen the IP address of the poster, which lead Cohen to discover that Cablevision had set up the account at that IP address. With that information in hand, Cohen asked the Court to force Cablevision to disclose that person’s identity. The Court found that Cohen had demonstrated an injury and meritorious claim and was entitled to this information notwithstanding the ordinary expectation of a poster’s privacy. The Court would not allow unchecked speech, finding that the “use of electronic speech requires a balancing of the two interests, namely free expression versus the right to respond to such expression. Free speech in the electronic age is not unfettered.”

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