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Great Lakes Transportation Holding LLC v. Yellow Cab Service Corporation of Florida

November 29, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robin S. Rosenbaum United States Magistrate Judge


This matter is before the Court on three discovery-related Motions referred to me by the Honorable William J. Zloch [D.E. 295]: Defendants' Motion to Compel, and for Contempt and Sanctions ("Defendants' Motion to Compel") [D.E. 223]; Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery ("Plaintiff's Motion to Compel") [D.E. 258]; and Defendants' Motion for an Order of Contempt and for Sanctions ("Defendants' Motion for Contempt") [D.E. 265]. The Court has reviewed these Motions, the filings supporting and opposing the Motions, and the other materials in the case file. The Court has also heard oral argument from counsel at a hearing on November 21, 2011. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that all three Motions should be denied.*fn1


This case involves competing claims of trademark infringement and unfair competition between two groups of parties that provide chauffeured-car and other transportation services. Metro Cars, Inc., ("Metro") was a Michigan company formerly owned by Gregory Eaton and Cullan Meathe. Yellow Cab Service Corporation of Florida, Inc., ("Yellow Cab") was a Florida company owned by Meathe. Daniel Ret formerly served as the chief operating officer of both Metro and Yellow Cab.

Sometime in 2006, Metro and Yellow Cab executed a license agreement for the trademark METRO CARS FL ("the Florida mark"). The license agreement acknowledged that Metro owned the Florida mark and had applied for federal registration of that mark.*fn2 (Metro had also previously registered the trademark METRO CARS ("the Metro mark").) Further, the agreement granted Yellow Cab a perpetual license to use the Florida mark in connection with its chauffeured-car business in Florida. Under the agreement, Yellow Cab promised that it would never challenge Metro's rights in the Florida mark and that, upon termination of the agreement, Yellow Cab would immediately cease all use of the mark.*fn3

In August 2006, Metro, Yellow Cab, and several related companies (collectively, "the debtors") borrowed $38 million from Bank of Montreal and two other banks (together, "the creditors"). In connection with that loan, the debtors granted the creditors a security interest in the debtors' personal property, including all trademarks and other intellectual-property rights. In June 2009, after the debtors defaulted on the loan, the creditors exercised their post-default remedies and proceeded to sell part of the loan collateral-namely, the assets of Metro and related Michigan companies ("the Michigan assets")-at a public foreclosure sale. On July 13, 2009, Great Lakes Transportation Holding LLC ("Great Lakes"), a newly formed transportation company owned by Eaton, Ret, and a third individual, purchased the Michigan assets.*fn4 The creditors subsequently transferred the rights to those assets, including the Metro mark and the Florida mark, to Great Lakes.

In January 2010, the creditors brought a foreclosure action against Yellow Cab, several related Florida companies, and Meathe in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. In that action, the creditors sought to further satisfy the defaulted loan debt by foreclosing their security interest in the assets of Yellow Cab and the related Florida companies ("the Florida assets").*fn5 After notice was given to other potential creditors, including Great Lakes, the court approved a private sale of the Florida assets to PTG Enterprises, LLC, ("PTG") on September 15, 2010. Since that time, PTG, based in West Palm Beach, has provided transportation services using the Florida assets. PTG is wholly owned by Peninsula Transportation Group, LLC, which, in turn, is owned by the Jean Meathe Irrevocable Trust. Jean Meathe is Cullan Meathe's mother. Alan Shanaman serves as the sole trustee of the Jean Meathe Irrevocable Trust. Shanaman is also a member of PTG's board of directors, Cullan Meathe's personal lawyer, and an outside counsel for the corporate defendants in this lawsuit.

On February 12, 2010, Great Lakes filed this action against Yellow Cab, Meathe, and several other Florida transportation companies owned by Meathe. Great Lakes later added PTG as a defendant.*fn6 (This Order refers to all the named defendants collectively as "Defendants.") In its Second Amended Complaint, Great Lakes alleges that it is the exclusive owner of the Metro mark and the Florida mark and that Defendants have used those marks illegally in connection with their competing transportation businesses. Great Lakes asserts federal claims for false designation of origin, see 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), trademark dilution, see 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c), and trademark infringement, see 15 U.S.C. § 1114; common-law claims for unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and breach of the 2006 license agreement; and a claim alleging violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, see Fla. Stat. §§ 501.201--501.213. Great Lakes's Complaint seeks damages, injunctive relief, and other remedies.

In response to Great Lakes's claims, Defendants allege that they used the Florida mark in commerce before Great Lakes and its predecessor (Metro) did and therefore that Defendants are the true owners of the Florida mark. On that basis, Defendants assert several counterclaims and third-party claims against Great Lakes, Eaton, and Ret (together, "Plaintiffs"), focusing on the parties' competing uses of the Florida mark. These claims are generally similar to the claims brought by Great Lakes. Further, Defendants plead state-law claims alleging that Eaton, Ret, and other Metro agents acted illegally to deprive Meathe and the other Defendants of their interests in the Florida mark, in part by forming Great Lakes to purchase the Michigan assets at the 2009 foreclosure sale.


Discovery in this action has been contentious, with each side frequently accusing the other of improper conduct. In the three Motions now before the Court, the parties seek relief for various discovery violations allegedly committed by their opponents and related non-parties.

Defendants' Motion to Compel

In this Motion, Defendants seek to compel Plaintiffs to produce a draft financial report estimating the value of Ret's one-third interest in Great Lakes and another Michigan transportation company ("the Report"). Defendants also request a finding of contempt and award of sanctions against Plaintiffs for failing to disclose the Report after Judge Zloch ordered Plaintiffs to produce documents reflecting the value of Great Lakes.

In 2009, Ret hired an attorney to perform estate-planning services for him. In order to provide these services, the attorney directed Ret to obtain a valuation of his interest in Great Lakes. Ret retained the Rehmann Group ("Rehmann"), a Michigan accounting firm, to ...

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