I am changing the tone of the blog. The plaintiffs are changing their strategies and so must we. While I am happy advising my clients, not all of you are my clients, and I don’t want those who are not my client to be left without the tools to understand their rights as a defendant. I’m changing my tone to give named defendants (the number of whom are growing) ammunition to protect themselves and to catch the plaintiff copyright trolls in their missteps. I call this strategy the “pro-joinder” strategy.
We have always told our clients that a plaintiff cannot sue a defendant for the same thing in two separate federal lawsuits. Yet certain plaintiffs are forgetting that this rule exists, and they are suing a defendant in one lawsuit in one federal court, and then they are “naming” that same defendant in a second lawsuit in another federal court (usually in a different state). In my opinion, blindsiding a defendant with his own personal lawsuit in which he is named can backfire on the plaintiff, and here is how.
There is a rule that if a plaintiff pursues two federal cases against the same party involving the same controversy at the same time, one of the two identical pending cases should be dismissed. (This is true in MANY districts: Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817; Missouri v. Prudential Health Care Plain, Inc., 259 F.3d 949, 953054 (8th Cir.2001); Serlin v. Arthur Andersen & Co., 3 F.3d 221, 223 (7th Cir.1993); Zerilli v. Evening News Ass’n, 628 F.2d 217,222 (D.C.Cir.1980); Walton v. Eaton Corp., 563 F.2d 66,70 (3d Cir.1977).)
There is also what is known as the “first-to-file” rule, which states that when two related cases are pending in two federal courts, the court where the suit was last filed [where the defendant was named] cannot hear the case if the issues substantially overlap. (See Employers Ins. of Wausau v. Fox Entm’t Group, 522 F.3d 271, 274-275 (2d Cir.2008); Manuel v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1135 (11th Cir.2005); Cadle Co. v. Whataburger, Inc., 174 F.3d 599, 603 (5th Cir.1999).)
Now as soon as you object to the second “named” case from being filed, I have NO DOUBT that your plaintiff will counter with, “well, so-and-so defendant was never named in the first case, and so he was never a party to that action.” True. You were likely not a party in the first case (you were a “John Doe,” or a “putative defendant”). However, the plaintiff’s own “scare” letters might suggest otherwise [read them and snicker], because quite frankly, they should have been more careful when they decided to blast the scare letters out to all of you. However, this isn’t the strategy. Keep reading.
As a response to the plaintiffs response to the court, I would certainly then point out that in the plaintiff’s OWN COMPLAINT in the first lawsuit, he listed your accused IP address as one of the many defendants in the swarm, and he stated in his complaint that “joinder is proper” combining all of these defendants in one lawsuit “…since they all participated in the same bittorrent swarm.” Based on this information (and using the plaintiff’s own filings as exhibits in your motion), I would ask the judge to dismiss the second case against you personally and order the plaintiff to name you in the first mass bittorrent case with all of the other tens or hundreds of defendants (and good luck to the plaintiff litigating that one). Alternatively — and here is the strategy — I would consider joining all of the John Doe Defendants from the first lawsuit as co-defendants in the lawsuit where you were named. Here’s the logic:
If the plaintiff stated in his complaint that joinder was proper there in the first lawsuit, then this is what is known in evidence as an “admission,” and the plaintiff cannot turn around and object when you want to join those same defendants in the second lawsuit against you personally. I also want to point out that if you hold that joinder was proper in the first case, then federal joinder rules actually require that you join all relevant parties [e.g., those other John Doe defendants who were “properly joined” in the first lawsuit] as co-defendants in the [second] lawsuit, or else it [the second lawsuit] cannot go forward.
Why join all John Doe Defendants from your first case as co-defendants (you are not the plaintiff here, you are still on their side as a co-defendant) in the second case in which you are named? Because if a John Doe Defendant (the term is properly a “joint tortfeasor”) wasn’t joined in this second lawsuit, well then, his rights might be adversely affected by the outcome of the case of which he did not have a say in the testimony or evidence that lead to the outcome of it. Also, if a defendant was indeed properly joined in the first lawsuit with the bittorrent swarm and he is found guilty of copyright infringement, do you think he wants to pay the entire judgement of $150,000 for each alleged act of infringement on his own? Or, would it be in his best interest to spread out the judgement so that everyone else who was part of the bittorrent swarm pay their “fair share” of the judgement?
Obviously this is probably something that your attorney should be discussing with you, as there are considerations in whether and how to fight this strategy [most important of which is whether the judge believes that joinder is proper (based on his own former rulings)]. Get a pro-defendant judge, and this argument may not work [but then you would likely get a ruling stating that joinder is not proper in the first case]. But, get a judge like Judge Facciola or Judge Beryl Howell (who are hell-bent on asserting that joinder IS proper for bittorrent cases where there are multiple defendants), then you have a very strong argument.
All this being said, now you know about one strategy of many that you can use to defend yourself. This is obviously not legal advice, but still, do your research and when you prove to yourself that this strategy could hurt bittorrent cases across the U.S., and consider having your attorney join all other defendants from the first lawsuit. If you are smart enough to do this on your own, then bless you, because you are a pioneer and your efforts should be rewarded.