A Florida company is seeking attorney fees in a lawsuit that alleged Locke Lord and three of its attorneys engaged in malicious prosecution by representing a man who had lost an earlier patent infringement case against the company.
“The Gonzalez patents were applied for and obtained solely for purposes of assertion against purported infringers for purposes of financial gain of Gonzalez and his attorneys,” said an amended complaint in New Life Ventures v. Locke Lord. “Gonzalez and his attorneys were aware that New Life did not infringe the Gonzalez patents before filing the underlying complaint against New Life.”
But Locke Lord counters that the plaintiff, New Life Ventures, has already lost identical arguments in the underlying patent case, and can’t relitigate the dispute now.
“Having struck out in its quest for attorney fees in federal court, New Life turned to the Florida state court, where it filed this action seeking recovery for the same attorney fees, framing its complaint under a theory of malicious prosecution and lost profits,” said a motion to dismiss by Locke Lord.
The current attorney fee case originated in Florida state court in October 2018, was removed to Florida federal court the same month, and on Tuesday it was transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.
In the underlying litigation, New Life was the defendant in a 2014 patent infringement lawsuit by plaintiff Emmanuel Gonzalez, represented by Locke Lord attorneys Scott Fuller, Paul Lein and Darrian Campbell.
Gonzalez had alleged that New Life infringed on five of his patents related to methods to digitally label websites to assist in Internet searches. New Life, however, alleged the method was identical to prior computer-database inventions since 1946 and that it had been in use before Gonzalez applied for his patents.
In 2016, New Life won a ruling in its favor when the district court “granted summary judgment of invalidity of the Gonzalez patents” and dismissed Gonzalez’s claims against New Life with prejudice, the complaint said. An appellate court affirmed the district court’s ruling in 2017.
New Life later alleged that Gonzalez and his Locke Lord lawyers instigated the case against it with malice, recklessness and without probable cause. It alleged that the litigation cost it in legal fees and lost business income because of the time, money and resources it used to defend itself. The company claims the situation was so “egregious or outrageous” that the court should discourage Gonzalez and the attorneys from engaging in similar misconduct in the future. It dismissed its action against attorneys Lein and Campbell but kept the law firm as a defendant in its suit.
Locke Lord asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit in a Nov. 20, 2018, motion.
The firm argues that in the underlying case, a jury ruled for Gonzalez against New Life and awarded $75,000 for patent infringement. Months later, the court granted summary judgment for New Life, ruling that Gonzalez’s patents were invalid. New Life sought attorney fees in the litigation, and the court denied it. An appellate court upheld that ruling. The case can’t be religitated since the federal court already issued a final judgment in the dispute between the same parties and same claims, the motion said.
In a supplemental motion to dismiss based on New Life’s amended complaint, Locke Lord also argued that the company did not raise plausible allegations that the firm and its three attorneys acted maliciously, without probable cause, or recklessly.
“New Life’s amended complaint consists of only threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,” the motion said.
Joel Rothman of SRIPLAW in Boca Raton, Florida, who represents New Life, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Neither did Locke Lord partner Thomas Cunningham of West Palm Beach, Florida, who represents his law firm.