Defendant Doesn’t Abandon Counterclaim By Failing to Replead It In Response to Amended Complaint – Ohio Fed. Court

I recently faced this procedural quandary: Plaintiff (that’s us) filed a complaint.  Defendant responded by filing an answer and counterclaim.  After receiving court leave, and before responding to the counterclaim, we amended the complaint.  Defendant answered the amended complaint and filed affirmative defenses but did not replead its counterclaim.

Defendant later threatened to default us if we didn’t answer its prior counterclaim.  I argued that the earlier counterclaim was extinguished by the amended complaint since the defendant didn’t file a counterclaim to it.  The defendant thought otherwise.  Ultimately, to avoid spending time and money on a collateral issue, I answered the counterclaim – even though I don’t think I had to.

My research revealed a definite split of authority on the issue.  Some courts hold that an amended pleading supersedes not only the original complaint (that’s obvious) but also an earlier counterclaim to the superseded complaint.  Others take the opposite tack and find that a counterclaim is separate from the answer and that even where a complaint is withdrawn and amended, the prior counterclaim still remains and must be answered.

Mathews v. Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, 2014 WL 4748472 reflects a court weighing the facts of a given case in deciding whether a defendant must replead its counterclaim or can stand on the one it previously filed.

The plaintiffs sued alleging their disability retirement benefits were wrongly denied.  The pension fund defendant filed an answer and counterclaim to recover overpaid benefits. The plaintiff later filed an Amended Complaint to which the defendant answered but did not re-assert a counterclaim.  Plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings based on the absence of a counterclaim with defendant’s answer to the amended pleading.  The defendant then moved for leave to file a counterclaim to the Amended Complaint.  Plaintiff opposed the motion.

Siding with the defendant, the Ohio Federal court looked to the interplay between Federal Rules 13 and 15 and noted that “courts are divided” on whether a party must replead a counterclaim in response to an amended complaint.

Federal Rule 13 requires a pleading to state compulsory counterclaims and allows it to allege permissive counterclaims.

Federal Rule 15(a)(3) provides that, “[u]nless the court orders otherwise, any required response to an amended pleading must be made within the time remaining to respond to the original pleading or within 14 days after service of the amended pleading, whichever is later.”

Some courts interpret this to mean that a defendant must replead a counterclaim in response to an amended complaint or it abandons or waives the right to pursue the counterclaim* while others do not require a defendant to replead a counterclaim with its response to an amended complaint.**

Still, a third line of cases decides the question on a case-by-case basis: it considers whether plaintiff received notice of the counterclaim, whether the defendant pursued the counterclaim and whether plaintiff will suffer unfair prejudice if the prior counterclaim proceeds.

The Court ultimately followed the latter case authorities; it weighed the equities to decide whether the defendant abandoned its counterclaim.  In allowing the defendant to file a counterclaim to the plaintiff’s Amended Complaint, the Court noted that Plaintiff had been on notice for several months that defendant intended to pursue its counterclaim and even replied to the counterclaim.

The Court also cited Plaintiff’s failure to establish prejudice if the Defendant was allowed to file a counterclaim. The Court rejected plaintiff’s judicial economy argument by noting that discovery was already closed when plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings and the proposed amended answer and counterclaim injected no new facts to the previously filed counterclaim.

Afterwords: When a complaint is amended it is treated as abandoned.  However, if a defendant filed a counterclaim along with its answer to the abandoned complaint, there is case authority (not just in Ohio but in other states, too) for the proposition that the counterclaim is not extinguished and the plaintiff still must answer it.

Mathews and cases like it demonstrate that the safe procedural play is for a defendant to replead its counterclaim with its answer to an amended pleading.  Otherwise, the defendant may have to defend against a claim that it waived its counterclaim by not refiling it in response to the amended pleading.

 

 


Gen. Mills, Inc. v. Kraft Foods Global, Inc., 487 F.3d 1368, 1376–77 (Fed.Cir.2007)Bremer Bank, Nat’l Ass’n, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21055, at *40–41, 2009 WL 702009   Nat’l Mut. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Snider, 996 F.Supp.2d 1173, 1180 n. 8 (M.D.Ala.2014)

** Performance Sales & Mktg. LLC v. Lowe’s Cos., No. 5:07–cv–00140, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117835, at *9 n. 2, 2013 WL 4494687 (W.D.N.C. Aug. 20, 2013)Ground Zero Museum Workshop v. Wilson, 813 F.Supp.2d 678, 705–06 (D.Md. Aug.24, 2011)

*** Davis v. Beard, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30461, at *12–13, 2014 WL 916947 (E.D.Mo. Mar. 10, 2014) Hitachi Med. Sys. Am., Inc. v. Horizon Med. Grp., 2008 WL 5723531 (N.D.Ohio 2008) ; AVKO Educ. Research Found. v. Morrow, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 49463, at *30, 2013 WL 1395824 (E.D.Mich. Apr. 5, 2013); Cairo Marine Serv. v. Homeland Ins. Co., No. 4:09CV1492, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117365, at *3–4, 2010 WL 4614693 (E.D.Mo. Nov. 4, 2010)

 

Supplemental Jurisdiction Quick-Hits : A Case Note

Southern OceanOcean Tomo v. Barney, (http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/illinois/ilndce/1:2012cv08450/275661/76) states the governing supplemental jurisdiction rules in a business battle over the rights to a patent valuation system.

The defendant, the developer of the system, was a member of the plaintiff financial services firm (an LLC) for several years when the relationship broke down over various issues.  Citing the company’s intolerable conditions, the defendant left with a company laptop.

The plaintiff filed a state court suit under various claims including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and the defendant removed the case to Federal court.  There, the defendant counterclaimed for breach of contract and other state law business tort claims in addition to his own CFAA claim against the plaintiff.

Plaintiff moved to dismiss the state law claims on the basis that the court lacked supplemental jurisdiction over them.

Ruling: Motion denied.  Defendant can proceed on his state law counterclaims.

Reasons:

Supplemental jurisdiction principles are codified at 28 U.S.C. 1367.  This section provides that in any case where a Federal court has original jurisdiction, the Federal court has “supplemental jurisdiction” over related state law claims.

Supplemental jurisdiction is proper where the state law claims are so related to the Federal ones that they form part of the same cause of action and stem from a common nucleus of operative fact.  Even a “loose factual connection” between the state and Federal claims will generally provide a predicate for supplemental jurisdiction.

A district court can decline supplemental jurisdiction where: (1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law, (2) the state law claims substantially predominates over the Federal claims; (3) the Federal court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or (4) exceptional circumstances or other compelling reasons exist for declining jurisdiction.  

The defendant’s Counterclaims alleged that plaintiff violated the LLC operating agreement by withholding profits from the plaintiff and a separate shareholder agreement.  The defendant also alleged a tortious interference with contract claim against the plaintiff.
Defendant’s lone Federal claim was the CFAA one – premised on the allegation that plaintiff was trying to reverse engineer defendant’s patent system, repackage it and sell it to third parties.
Denying the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss, the Northern District found that the defendants state law counterclaims were factually connected to the plaintiff’s Federal CFAA claim. The Court held that, at bottom, Plaintiff’s counterclaims were premised on allegations that Plaintiff engaged in a lengthy fraudulent scheme to steal defendant’s patent ratings system.
And while allowing that defendant’s state law counterclaims (breach of contract, tortious interference, misappropriation) involved a broader set of facts (than plaintiff’s CFAA count), they still derived from the same operative facts that were the foundation of the plaintiff’s claims.

The Court noted that defendant’s counterclaim allegations of plaintiff’s lengthy pattern of duplicitous conduct related directly to defendant’s claim that the plaintiff was trying to pilfer defendant’s patent ratings system.  This pattern of conduct was relevant both to plaintiff’s Federal computer fraud claims and to defendant’s state law counterclaim counts.

Since plaintiff’s motive (was it really trying to reverse engineer and steal the ratings system?) was key to the parties’ state and Federal claims , the Court found they were factually linked and supplemental jurisdiction was proper.

Afterword:

Ocean Tomo provides a succinct summary of supplemental jurisdiction rules.  As long as the state law claims are temporally related and at least loosely factually connected to the Federal claims, a Federal court can – but doesn’t have to – retain jurisdiction over state law claims that normally couldn’t be filed in Federal courts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trademark Infringement – The Irreparable Harm and Inadequate Remedy at Law Injunction Elements

The Northern District of Illinois recently pronounced the governing standards for injunctive relief in a franchise dispute between rival auto repair shops.

SBA-TLC, LLC v. Merlin Corp., 2015 WL 6955493 (N.D.Ill. 2015) sued its former franchisee for trademark infringement after the franchisee continued using the plaintiff’s signage, logo and design plans after the franchisor declared a default and terminated the franchise.

The court granted the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction based on the following black-letter basics:

To obtain injunctive relief, the moving party must show (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) the movant is likely to suffer irreparable harm if an injunction isn’t issued, (3) the balance of harms tips in the movant’s favor, and (4) an injunction is in the public interest.

To win a trademark infringement suit, the plaintiff must show (1) a protectable trademark, and (2) a likelihood of confusion as to the origin of the defendant’s product. In the injunction context, the trademark plaintiff merely has to show a “better than negligible chance of winning on the merits.

The plaintiff here introduced evidence that it properly registered its trademarks and that the defendant continued to use them after plaintiff declared a franchise agreement default. This satisfied the likelihood of success prong.

The court next found the plaintiff satisfied the irreparable harm and inadequate remedy at law injunction elements. Irreparable harm means harm that is not fully compensable (or avoidable) by a final judgment in the plaintiff’s favor.  To show an inadequate remedy at law, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that a remedy is entirely worthless.  Instead, the plaintiff needs to show that a money damage award is “seriously deficient.”

Trademark cases especially lend themselves to court findings of irreparable harm and an inadequate remedy at law since it is difficult to monetize the impact trademark infringement has on a given brand. Lost profits and loss of goodwill are factors that signal irreparable harm in trademark disputes. The court further found that since it’s difficult to accurately measure economic damages in trademark cases, an inadequate remedy at law could be presumed.

Finally, the court found that the balance of harms weighed in favor of an injunction. It found the potential harm to plaintiff if an injunction did not issue would be great since the defendant franchisee could continue to use plaintiff’s marks and financially harm the plaintiff. By contrast, harm to the franchisee defendant was relatively minimal since the franchisee could easily be compensated for any lost profits sustained during the period of the injunction.

Take-away:

SBA=TLC provides a succinct summary of governing injunction standards under FRCP 65. The case stands for proposition that the irreparable harm and inadequate remedy at law prongs of injunctive relief are presumed in the trademark infringement context given the intrinsic difficulties in quantifying infringement damages.