Stephen Barnes, one half of the dispute-racked New York personal injury powerhouse Cellino & Barnes, has sued a law firm run by the wife and daughters of his partner, Ross Cellino.
Claiming he was suing on behalf of his firm, Barnes accuses Cellino & Cellino of infringing on his law firm’s trademarks, including its name and its phone number slogan “Don’t Wait, Call 8!”
The new suit comes amid an effort by Cellino to dissolve Cellino & Barnes over disagreements with his partner Barnes, who insists that the business is robust, profitable and shouldn’t be shut down.
In an April article in the Buffalo News, Jeanna Cellino, one of Ross Cellino’s daughters and a founder of Cellino & Cellino, said her new firm would focus on personal injury law but said her father isn’t involved in the new firm “in any way.” She said she was working with her mother Anna Marie and her sister Annmarie, and that they plan to hire one more lawyer.
Paul Cambria, a lawyer for Barnes, told The Buffalo News that there would be no issues in the dissolution dispute if Ross Cellino was truly not involved with the new firm.
But Barnes said in his new suit that website registration records and Ross Cellino’s previous communications with attorneys at Cellino & Barnes strongly suggest Ross Cellino is involved in the new firm, and he wants the Cellino women to stop using the firm name.
“It is inevitable that actual confusion will arise if C&C is allowed to proceed with performing business under, marketing, and advertising its confusingly similar name,” the suit said.
As Barnes tells it, it has been clear since shortly after Ross Cellino filed for dissolution of their firm in 2017 that he had plans to start a similar business. Cellino pitched Cellino & Barnes’ attorneys, in writing, on the prospect of joining a firm he referred to as “Cellino & ???” and even shot commercials for the new business in hopes of replicating the media omnipresence of the Cellino & Barnes brand in New York, Barnes’ new suit alleges.
Between the new firm name and its phone number—716-888-2020, said by Barnes to be a mash-up of Cellino & Barnes’ trademarked 800-888-8888 and its less catchy number, 716-854-2020—it’s clear that Cellino & Cellino has set out to poach Cellino & Barnes’ business in violation of the federal Lanham Act, Barnes alleges.
The complaint also said that the website cellinoandcellino.com was registered “by an unknown party” just a week before Ross Cellino sought to dissolve his firm. It was modified just two weeks before Cellino & Cellino filed incorporation papers, the suit contends.
The suit seeks a temporary restraining order, an injunction and damages.
Cellino & Cellino could not immediately be reached for comment.
Terry Connors, a partner at Connors LLP who represents Ross Cellino, said Barnes’ suit was more proof that Cellino & Barnes should be dissolved. Cellino’s dissolution case is set to go to trial in August, although an appeal from a summary judgment decision is pending.
“This lawsuit is the latest example of conclusive proof of the dissension and deadlock that requires dissolution of Cellino & Barnes,” Connors said in a statement. “Ross’s co-owner has filed an unauthorized lawsuit on behalf of the firm—likely using firm funds—to prevent Ross’s wife and daughters from starting their own law firm.”
Asked in an email if the suit was filed using firm funds, Barnes’ lawyer, Gregory Photiadis of Duke, Holzman, Photiadis & Gresens, said no.