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Advanta-Star Automotive Research Corporation of America v. Greenway Automotive Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

April 23, 2018

ADVANTA-STAR AUTOMOTIVE RESEARCH CORPORATION OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
SEMORAN AUTO ACQUISITIONS, INC., WEST COLONIAL AUTO, INC., LONGWOOD AUTO ACQUISITIONS I, INC., GREENWAY AUTOMOTIVE, INC. and CARL ATKINSON, Defendants.

          ORDER

          PAUL G. BYRON UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court without oral argument on two motions to dismiss: one filed by Defendants Semoran Auto Acquisitions, Inc., West Colonial Auto, Inc., Longwood Auto Acquisitions, Inc., and Greenway Automotive (Doc. 30); another filed by Defendant Carl Atkinson (Doc. 35). Plaintiffs filed responses in opposition to both. (Docs. 38, 40). Upon review, both motions are due to be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         This copyright infringement suit arises out of the Defendants'[2] alleged co-opting of digital content. Plaintiff Advanta-STAR Automotive Research Corporation of America (“Advanta-STAR”) generates and sells reviews and information about cars (the “Content”) to car dealerships, who pay subscription fees for rights to use the Content. (Doc. 18, ¶¶ 13, 15). Dealership-subscribers use the Content to help explain to customers differences between various cars, and to “enhance Search Engine Optimization . . . for dealership websites, and increase[] the ‘time on site' for website visitors.” (Id. ¶ 14). Plaintiff owns copyrights for the Content, and notices of copyright prominent appear throughout the Content's text. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17).

         In July 2015, Paul French-who Plaintiff believes was IT Manager for the Business Defendants-requested information about Plaintiff's product offerings through the Advanta-STAR website. (Id. ¶ 18). Mr. French requested a price quote, and Plaintiff responded by sending him a subscription proposal. (Id. ¶ 19). That was the last communication between Mr. French and Plaintiff. (Id.).

         Subsequently, Plaintiff learned that several websites owned by the Business Defendants (“Infringing Websites”)[3] included unique text identical to the Content. (Id. ¶ 21). Searches revealed that the Infringing Websites included Plaintiff's vehicle comparisons, as well as text and information identical to Plaintiff's copyrighted Content, except the copyright notices and author-identifying information was removed. (Id. ¶ 22). Defendants did not purchase, and were never authorized to use, Plaintiff's Content. (Id. ¶ 25). As a result of Defendants' infringement, Plaintiff suffered lost sales. (Id. ¶¶ 25, 27).

         Plaintiff initiated this suit on September 22, 2017, and filed an Amended Complaint on October 24, 2017. (Docs. 1, 18). Plaintiff brings three counts against all Defendants: (I) copyright infringement, (II) violation of 17 U.S.C. § 1202, and (III) civil conspiracy. (Doc. 18, ¶¶ 29-46). The Dealership Defendants and Carl Atkinson separately moved to dismiss and alternatively for more definite statements. (Docs. 30, 35).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1). Thus, in order to survive a motion to dismiss made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible on its face when the plaintiff “pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         Though a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, mere legal conclusions or recitation of the elements of a claim are not enough. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Courts must also view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and must resolve any doubts as to the sufficiency of the complaint in the plaintiff's favor. Hunnings v. Texaco, Inc., 29 F.3d 1480, 1483 (11th Cir. 1994) (per curiam).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Business Defendants' Motion

         The Business Defendants' motion asserts that claims for civil conspiracy must be pleaded with particularity as to each defendant under Florida law, and that Count III fails to do so. (Doc. 30, pp. 3-4). Alternatively, the motion requests a more definite statement on the grounds that Count III, as currently formulated, is impermissibly vague. (Id. at p. 5).

         As a preliminary matter, the Court rejects the Business Defendants' contention that “conspiracy claims must be plead [sic] with particularity.” (Doc. 30, p. 4) The cases offered in support of this proposition involved conspiracy claims with fraud predicates, while the conspiracy claims at issue are predicated by copyright infringement. See Haskin v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, 995 F.Supp. 1437, 1439-40 (M.D. Fla. 1998) (applying Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b)'s heightened pleading requirement to “averments of fraud or mistake”); Truesdell ...


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