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Minemyer v. R-Boc Representatives

August 24, 2007

JOHN T. ("TOM") MINEMYER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
R-BOC REPRESENTATIVES, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff John T. ("Tom") Minemyer ("Minemyer" or "Plaintiff") has brought suit against Defendant R-BOC Representatives, Inc., ("R-BOC" or "Defendant") and other related party defendants (collectively "Defendants") for infringing on United States patent 6,851,727 and related state law claims. Before this Court is Defendant Timothy A. Grimsley's ("Grimsley" or "this Defendant") Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 40) based on allegations that this Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Grimsley. For the reasons stated below, this motion is DENIED.

1. FACTS*fn1

Plaintiff is the inventor of a "Radial Conduit Coupling System and Method." On February 8, 2005, he received United States patent 6,851,726 ("the Patent"), which describes this invention and which he continues to hold through the present day. Plaintiff is sole proprietor of Lozon, which manufactures plastic couplers under this patent.

Defendant R-BOC is an Illinois Corporation based in St. Charles, Illinois, and doing business as B&C Distributing. Beginning in 2003, R-BOC purchased patented couplers from Lozon that it would then resell to Defendant Dura-Line, who ultimately sold them to telecommunications businesses. In 2006, these purchases from Lozon slowed and then stopped altogether. During that year, R-BOC began producing and distributing couplers substantially similar if not identical to those it had purchased from Lozon. Dura-Line continued to contract with R-BOC for the purchase of plastic couplers continuing into 2006, despite knowing that later versions were produced in violation of federal patent law. At all relevant times Defendant Timothy A. Grimsley -- the movant in the instant matter -- was an employee of Dura-Line. Defendants DOE #1 and DOE #2 are plastics molders who also infringed on the patent by producing the couplers distributed by R-BOC after purchases from Lozon had ceased.

The infringing couplers contained distinctive, nonfunctional trade dress features that would make a purchaser believe that Lozon continued to manufacture B&C's couplers through 2006. In addition, the infringing products were packaged in such a way, and instructions were included with that packaging, so as to imitate Plaintiff's product. Despite this consistency in appearance, Defendants made no effort to inform their purchasers that couplers sold from 2006 on were not Lozon products, and that therefore they were not manufactured in the same manner or using the same safety protocols.

On March 29, 2007, Plaintiff filed a complaint against all Defendants for equitable and monetary relief, which was subsequently amended on May 21, 2007. In its current form, Plaintiff maintains that Defendants are liable for: infringing on U.S. patent 6,851,727 in violation of the Federal Patent Act (35 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq.) (Counts I-III); violating the Lanham Act (Count IV); and breaking various statutory and common law obligations of the state of Illinois (Counts V-XII). Defendant Grimsley now seeks dismissal of all counts against him, claiming that he is a non-resident of Illinois, lacks the minimum personal contacts with this state, and is protected by the fiduciary shield doctrine from any assertion of personal jurisdiction.

2. LEGAL STANDARD

On a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of a 12(b)(6) motion is to decide the adequacy of the complaint, not to determine the merits of the case. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted). A complaint should not be dismissed "unless it appears beyond all doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957). Any ambiguities are construed in favor of the plaintiff. Curtis v. Bembenek, 48 F.3d 281, 283 (7th Cir. 1995). However, the court need "not strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiffs which are not apparent on the face of th[e] ... complaint." Coates v. Illinois State Bd. of Ed., 559 F.2d 445, 447 (7th Cir. 1977).

A complaint that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure cannot be dismissed because it fails to allege facts. The Rules require simply that the complaint state a claim, rather than plead facts that would establish the validity of that claim. Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2002). "All that need be specified are the bare minimum facts necessary to put the defendant on notice of the claim so that he can file an answer." Id. (citing Beanstalk Group, Inc. v. AM Gen. Corp., 283 F.3d 856, 863 (7th Cir. 2002)). The Seventh Circuit has ruled that stating a claim in federal court requires only "a short statement, in plain (that is, non-legalistic) English, of the legal claim." Kirksey v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 1039, 1041 (7th Cir. 1999). Plaintiffs "don't have to file long complaints, don't have to plead facts, don't have to plead legal theories." Id.

With respect to motions to dismiss based on the impropriety of personal jurisdiction, "a complaint need not include facts alleging personal jurisdiction." Purdue Research Found. v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, S.A., 338 F.3d 773, 782 (7th Cir. 2003)(quoting Steel Warehouse of Wisconsin, Inc. v. Leach, 154 F.3d 712, 715 (7th Cir. 1998)). However, once the defendant moves to dismiss the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating the existence of jurisdiction. Purdue, 338 F.3d at 782. Absent an evidentiary hearing, the plaintiff must then present a prima facie case that personal jurisdiction is appropriate and, in so doing, "is entitled to the resolution in its favor of all disputes concerning relevant facts presented in the record." Id. (citations omitted). The court will "accept all allegations of the complaint as true except those controverted by defendants' affidavits." Northwestern Corp. v. Gabriel Mfg. Co., 1996 WL 73622, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 6, 1996). Nonetheless, the prima facie case must include affirmative evidence in support of personal jurisdiction that goes beyond the pleadings. See Purdue, 338 F.3d at 783.

In a case based on diversity of jurisdiction, a federal district court sitting in Illinois has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant only if an Illinois court would have jurisdiction. See RAR, Inc. v. Turner Diesel, Ltd., 107 F.3d 1272, 1275 (7th Cir. 1997). In considering a challenge to personal jurisdiction, the court must look to state statutory law, state due process law, and federal due process law. RAR, 107 F.3d at 1276.

3. ANALYSIS OF "FIDUCIARY SHIELD DOCTRINE" UNDER LONG-ARM STATUTE

Defendant Grimsley maintains that because his only contacts with the state of Illinois were made in his capacity as an employee of Dura-Line, the "fiduciary shield doctrine" precludes this Court from asserting ...


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