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Hamptons Locations, Inc. v. Rubens

June 4, 2009

HAMPTONS LOCATIONS, INC. AND NANCY GRIGOR, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RICHARD RUBENS, BARBARA RUBENS, AND DARRELL RUBENS, EACH INDIVIDUALLY AND DOING BUSINESS AS HAMPTON LOCATIONS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Hamptons Locations, Inc. and Nancy Grigor ("Grigor") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed the present action against defendants Richard Rubens ("Richard"), Barbara Rubens ("Barbara"), and Darrell Rubens ("Darrell") claiming damages arising out of defendants' use of an allegedly infringing website. On January 29, 2007, a jury returned a verdict for $1,000.00 in favor of Plaintiffs against Darrell on Plaintiffs' first cause of action for a violation of section 1125(d) of the Lanham Act, also known as the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act ("ACPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d).*fn1 Presently before the Court is Darrell's motion to set aside the jury verdict pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 50(b). For the reasons stated below, Darrell's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

The background of this case is set forth in the Court's September 30, 2005 and May 25, 2006 Orders, familiarity with which is assumed. Thus, the Court will only state the facts necessary for disposition of the instant motion.

In 1994, Grigor created Hamptons Locations, Inc., a New York corporation. Hamptons Locations, Inc. uses the service mark and business name "Hamptons Locations" and the domain name "www.hamptonslocations.com." Hamptons Locations provides and scouts locations for, inter alia, photo shoots, film and television commercials, videos, and corporate meetings.

Barbara and Richard are husband and wife. Darrell is their son. Barbara and Richard work for Design Quest, Ltd., an architectural and interior design firm located in New York City. They own a home in the Hamptons which they designed and built in 1983 and use their home as an example of their architectural talents. With the help of their son Darrell, they developed a website -- www.dqny.com -- to showcase their services. This website displays pictures of their Hamptons home and offers the home as a rental for photo shoots.

On July 8, 1999, Darrell and his friends caused the registration of the domain name "HamptonLocations.com." The only difference between this domain name and Plaintiffs' business name, i.e., Hamptons Locations, was the absence of the letter "s" between the words "Hampton" and "Locations." On April 18, 2000, Darrell "linked" the www.hamptonlocations.com website with his parents' Design Quest website, www.dqny.com. In other words, if a person typed in www.hamptonlocations.com, a "link" would re-route that person to the Design Quest website.

Plaintiffs filed the instant action alleging that Richard, Barbara, and Darrell used the allegedly infringing domain name www.hamptonlocations.com for the purpose of diverting web browsers to the Design Quest website which resulted in consumer confusion and a disruption to Plaintiffs' business. The only cause of action at issue here is Plaintiffs' anticybersquatting claim under section 1125(d) of the Lanham Act, for which Darrell was found liable to Plaintiff in the sum of $1,000.00. For the reasons stated below, Darrell's Rule 50(b) motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict as to this cause of action is denied.

DISCUSSION

I. Darrell's Rule 50(b) Motion is Procedurally Proper

Before determining whether Darrell is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the Court must first consider whether Darrell preserved his right to make a Rule 50(b) motion by making a sufficiently specific Rule 50(a) prior to the submission of the case to the jury. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that he has.

A. Rule 50

Rule 50 provides in relevant part:

(a) Judgment as a Matter of Law.

(1) In General. If a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue, the court may:

(A) resolve the issue against the party; and

(B) grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against the party on a claim or defense that, under the controlling law, can be maintained or defeated only with a favorable finding on that issue.

(2) Motion. A motion for judgment as a matter of law may be made at any time before the case is submitted to the jury. The motion must specify the judgment sought and the law and facts that entitle the movant to the judgment.

(b) Renewing the Motion After Trial; Alternative Motion for a New Trial. If the court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law made under Rule 50(a), the court is considered to have submitted the action to the jury subject to the court's later deciding the legal questions raised by the motion. No later than 10 days after the entry of judgment--or if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict, no later than 10 days after the jury was discharged--the movant may file a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and may include an alternative or joint request for a new trial under Rule 59. In ruling on the renewed motion, the court may:

(1) allow judgment on the verdict, if the jury returned a verdict;

(2) order a new trial; or

(3) direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a) and 50(b) (emphasis added).

B. Procedural Posture of Motion

On Wednesday, January 24, 2007, at the conclusion of Plaintiffs' case-in-chief (Tr.*fn2 at 1068), defendants Richard and Darrell (collectively "Defendants") moved for judgment as a matter of law on numerous grounds which largely parallel those advanced in the current motion. (Id. at 1076.) Specifically, Defendants argued that Plaintiffs had not proven: (1) "that [Plaintiffs'] mark had acquired distinctiveness or secondary meaning as of June of 2000," (id. at 1078; see also id. at 1079); (2) that Darrell "registered or caused the registration" of the allegedly infringing domain name (id. at 1078); (3) that the allegedly infringing domain name was used in commerce; (4) "that the defendants' use of [the allegedly infringing domain name] was identical or confusingly similar to the plaintiff's mark" (id. at 1079); and (5) "any bad faith or intent to profit [on Defendants' behalf] from use of plaintiff's mark." (Id. at 1079-80.) The Court reserved decision on Defendants' motion (id. at 1081), but did rule that Plaintiffs' mark was not generic but rather was descriptive. (Id. at 1082.) Defendant did not present any case. (Id. at 1068.)

On Friday, January 26, 2007, the parties appeared before me for a charge conference, at the conclusion of which Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law "at the end of the entire case. . . . based upon the same grounds [they] moved earlier." (Id. at 1135.) I reserved decision. (Id. at 1136.)

C. Plaintiffs' Arguments

Plaintiffs argue that Defendants "did not do everything that was required under Rule 50(a)" because they did not specify the law, i.e. "statute, rule, law or case law precedent," upon which they were entitled to judgment. (Pls.' Mem. in Opp'n at 4.) Plaintiffs assert:

Given the importance of a Rule 50(a) motion, it would have been important for Defendant Darrell Rubens to comply with the Rule by the mandated specificity. Instead, Defendants' counsel made an ore tenus motion very late on Wednesday afternoon, although [defense counsel] had already twice told the Court that Defendants would not be presenting a case . . . and the jury had been dismissed for the day. It would have likely been more sensible for Defendants to have requested that their Rule 50(a) motion ...


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