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Gorfinkel v. Vayntrub

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 20, 2014



PAMELA K. CHEN, District Judge.

Before the Court is the motion of Defendants Ralf Vayntrub, Invar Consulting Ltd. ("Invar"), Genometrica Ltd. ("Genometrica Limited"), and Genometrica Research, Inc. ("Genometrica Research") (collectively, "Defendants") to dismiss Plaintiff Vera Gorfinkel's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, the Court dismisses Plaintiff's claim for declaratory judgment, alleged in Count Four of the Amended Complaint, which is the only claim over which the Court has original jurisdiction, and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's remaining state-law claims. The Court also dismisses all claims against Defendants Invar and Genometrica Limited, on the basis of Plaintiff's failure to respond to Defendant's motion to dismiss regarding these defendants, and against Defendant Ralf Vayntrub, for failure to properly serve. Accordingly, this case is terminated, except as to Counts One through Three as they relate to Defendant Genometrica Research, Inc. Those claims are hereby remanded to State court.


I. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed an amended verified complaint in the New York Supreme Court, County of Suffolk, on or about May 3, 2013. (Dkt. 1-15 at 23.) On May 28, 2013, Defendants timely removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446, and FRCP 81(c). (Dkt. 1.) As discussed further herein, the Court has federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1338 because Plaintiff's amended complaint seeks a declaration that she has not infringed upon certain of Defendants' patents, patents which are the subject of a related action pending before the Court. Additionally, the Court has authority to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

II. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

On March 24, 2014, the Court sua sponte ordered Defendants to show cause why this action should not be dismissed for want of subject matter jurisdiction. ( See Order to Show Cause, March 24, 2014.) Defendants responded thereto on April 14, 2014; Plaintiff responded on April 29, 2014; and Defendants submitted a reply on May 6, 2014. (Dkts. 45, 48-49.) The Court concludes that it has subject matter jurisdiction over this removal action based on Plaintiff's claim for a declaratory judgment of patent non-infringement.

The Court initially questioned subject matter jurisdiction because the thrust of Plaintiff's declaratory judgment claim was based on the alleged collateral estoppel effect of Plaintiff's employer's decision not to pursue a patent infringement claim against Plaintiff-collateral estoppel not being a federal cause of action. Upon further review of Plaintiff's complaint, the Court finds that Plaintiff asserts a cause of action arising under federal law, namely, the construal of a patent in connection with Plaintiff's declaratory judgment claim. See, e.g., Doukas v. Ballard, 825 F.Supp.2d 377 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 809 (1988)) ("A court will have original jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a) if the plaintiff's complaint, properly construed, establishes either that patent law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on a resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law, in that patent law is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded claims.'"). Because Plaintiff's claim for a declaratory judgment of noninfringement necessarily calls upon the Court to construe federal patent law to determine whether the patent, indeed, is infringing, ( see Dkt. 1-15 at 22 ¶ 2) ("Plaintiff requires a Declaratory Judgment [that] she acted properly and did not infringe the patents of [Stony Brook]...."), it raises a substantial question of federal patent law, and the Court, therefore, has federal question subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's declaratory judgment claim.

III. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges four causes of action: state-law claims for (1) intentional interference with contractual relations; (2) intentional interference with advantageous business relations; (3) defamation of character; and (4) a federal-law claim for a declaratory judgment that Plaintiff has not infringed upon any of Defendants' patents.[1]

According to the amended complaint, Plaintiff, at all relevant times, was an associate professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook ("Stony Brook"), and resided in New York. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 1.) Defendant Vayntrub is the founder and president of Defendant businesses Invar, Genometrica Limited, and Genometrica Research. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 2.) Invar and Genometrica Limited are incorporated in Lichtenstein. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 3-4.) Genometrica Research is a domestic corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York. (Dkt. 1 ¶ 5.)

Plaintiff alleges that in August 2011, Defendants ended a business relationship with Boris Gorbovitski, Plaintiff's husband, for unspecified reasons. (Dkt. 1-15 ¶ 7.) Defendant Vayntrub then threatened Plaintiff with filing a lawsuit against Gorbovitski or initiating criminal proceedings against him unless Plaintiff continued to work for Vayntrub even while employed by Stony Brook.[2] (Dkt. 1-15 ¶¶ 8, 57.) Plaintiff refused Vayntrub's alleged offer, after which Defendants filed complaints with Stony Brook accusing Plaintiff of patent infringement. (Dkt. 1-15 ¶ 10-11.) In response to those complaints, Stony Brook suspended a grant under which Plaintiff was working, halting her research and depriving her of income. Stony Brook ultimately terminated that grant. (Dkt. 1-15 ¶¶ 12, 36, 69.) Stony Brook investigated and evaluated the infringement complaints against Plaintiff, ultimately concluding that, in its view, Plaintiff had not infringed on Defendants' patent(s) because "in the absence of any product, Plaintiff cannot infringe on a patent nor be in competition under U.S. or NY law." (Dkt. 1-15 ¶ 13.) Stony Brook declined to pursue infringement charges against Plaintiff. (Dkt. 1-15 ¶ 13.)

Plaintiff alleges that from December 2011 to February 2012, Defendants' unidentified personnel intentionally spread defamatory comments to Plaintiff's employees in her lab, including that she was terminated, had been engaged in illegal activities, and that the employees would be better off working with Defendants. (Dkt. 1-15 ¶¶ 14-15.) Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants induced Stony Brook to commence patent infringement proceedings against Plaintiff, which "was humiliating, harassing, and disparaging to her career at Stony Brook University." (Dkt. 1-15 ¶ 34.)[3]

In sum, the gravamen of Plaintiff's amended complaint appears to be that Defendants intentionally interfered with Plaintiff's employment relationship with Stony Brook by complaining to Stony Brook that Plaintiff had infringed upon certain of Defendants' patents.[4] Plaintiff seeks money damages, an injunction, and a declaration from the Court that Stony Brook's determination that she had not infringed on Defendants' patents is entitled to res judicata and/or collateral estoppel effect, or, alternatively, a separate declaration from the Court stating that she did not infringe on Defendants' patents. ...

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