Prenda Law v. Godfread

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

02/12/2013

Status: 

Pending

Location: 

Illinois

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
This action is closely linked to two other threats in the database: Steele v. Godfread and Duffy v. Godfread. Plaintiff Prenda Law is a law firm that has brought numerous plaintiff-side copyright cases concerning the sharing of movies... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Paul Godfread, Alan Cooper, DieTrollDie.com, FightCopyrightTrolls.com, and John Does

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Location of Party: 

  • Illinois

Location of Party: 

  • Minnesota

Legal Counsel: 

Erin Kathryn Russell, The Russell Firm (for defendants Godfread and Cooper); Jason E. Sweet, Booth Sweet LLP (for defendants Godfread and Cooper); Charles Lee Mudd Jr. (for defendants DieTrollDie.com and FightCopyrightTrolls.com); Kurt Opshal, Mitche
Description

This action is closely linked to two other threats in the database: Steele v. Godfread and Duffy v. Godfread.

Plaintiff Prenda Law is a law firm that has brought numerous plaintiff-side copyright cases concerning the sharing of movies over the BitTorrent protocol. These cases have been brought on behalf of several different asserted rightsholders, including the entities AF Holdings LLC and Ingenuity 13 LLC. According to a statement made by attorney Brett Gibbs, who identified himself as Of Counsel to Prenda Law, both AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13 are incorporated in the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The defendant in one proceeding initiated by Prenda Law has alleged that these entities are shell companies, and that the attorneys bringing the lawsuits own some or all of the these companies.

Multiple filings in these proceedings have included the signature of an "Alan Cooper," who has been identified as a principal of both AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13. On November 29, 2012, an Alan Cooper, through his attorney Paul Godfread, filed a letter with two federal judges in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, stating that he had reason to believe that John Steele and Prenda Law were using his name on filings related to these lawsuits without his permission, and that he is not in any way affiliated with AF Holdings or Ingenuity 13. On January 23, 2013, Cooper (through Godfread) sued John Steele, Prenda Law, AF Holdings, and Ingenuity 13 for invasion of privacy and violation of Minnesota's deceptive trade practices statute in the Minnesota District Court for the Fourth Judicial District.

On February 12, 2013 Prenda Law Firm, Inc. sued Cooper, his attorney, and 10 unnamed defendants for defamation, false light, tortious interference, and civil conspiracy in the Illinois Circuit Court for St. Clair County. Nearly identical complaints were filed by Prenda Law attorney Paul Duffy in the Illinois Circuit Court for Cook County and by John Steele in Florida Circuit Court for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. All three complaints allege that Cooper and Godfread have falsely accused the respective plaintiffs of committing crimes and frauds, in both statements online and filings before the Minnesota courts. The complaints identify dozens of statements that are alleged to have been made on different online fora about Prenda Law and its members. 

All three of these cases were removed to federal courts: the United States District Courts for the Southern District of Illinois, Northern District of Illinois, and the Southern District of Florida, respectively. On March 6, 2013, John Steele voluntarily dismissed the complaint in the Florida action. The two Illinois actions are still pending.

Update:

On March 7, 2013, the website dietrolldie.com reported that a subpoena had been issued on February 25, 2013 by the plaintiff to Automattic, Inc., the owner of Wordpress.com, seeking all IP addresses that accessed that website and fightcopyrighttrolls.com. Both websites extensively criticize Prenda Law and its litigation methods, and appear to be the host of many of the comments alleged to be defamatory in Prenda Law's complaint. The subpoena seeks the IP addresses of all machines that accessed the two websites from January 1, 2011 through present. The subpoena had a return date of March 4, 2013.

On March 21, 2013, Godfread and Cooper filed an answer and counterclaims. In the pleading the defendants claimed a series of affirmative defenses, including truth, litigation privilege, a bar on the claim based on Minnesota's anti-SLAPP statute, and the doctrine of unclean hands, based on Prenda Law's use of defendant Cooper's name in litigation. The defendants also asserted counterclaims, seeking a declaratory judgment of immunity from suit based on Minnesota's anti-SLAPP law, noting the threats of suit made both in communications to the defendants and in the two other defamation filings. The pleading also asserts claims of civil conspiracy and breach of privacy, and seeks to pierce the corporate veil of AF Holdings LLC, Ingenuity 13 LLC, and plaintiff Prenda Law.

On March 26, 2013, defendants filed a motion to dismiss or transfer venue to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, noting in their accompanying motion that no activity of the defendants occurred in the Southern District and the plaintiff is located in Chicago, in the Northern District.

On April 10, 2013,  plaintiff Prenda Law, Inc, now joined by a second plaintiff, Alpha Law Firm LLC, filed a motion to remand the case back to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The inclusion of Alpha Law Firm is apparently justified through an amended complaint that was filed in state court shortly before the remand, but for which the state docket includes no mention of a grant of leave to file an amended complaint pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/2-616. The motion argues a lack of diversity between the parties, due to Alpha Law being a Minnesota entity.

On April 11, 2013, Prenda Law filed a motion to strike the affirmative defenses and dismiss the counterclaims. The motion alleges that the counterclaims largely surround non-party John Steele. The motion also alleges that the affirmative defenses lack any factual allegations.

On April 16, 2013, Charles Lee Mudd Jr. appeared as an attorney for two of the yet-unidentified John Doe defendants, the websites DieTrollDie.com and FightCopyrightTrolls.com. Also on April 16th, Godfread and Cooper filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Minnesota's anti-SLAPP act. The motion argues that under Illinois conflict-of-laws analysis the Minnesota anti-SLAPP is appropriately applied against the Illinois defamation claim, as Minnesota's interest in the anti-SLAPP is to protect Minnesota speakers.

On April 17, 2013,  attorneys for DieTrollDie.com filed a motion to quash in a miscellaneous case filed in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. The motion to quash concerns a second subpoena issued on Feburary 27, 2013, to non-party WildWest Domains. The subpoena sought the contact information for the owner of DieTrollDie.com. The motion argues that the improper court issued the subpoena under Illinois law, and that the comments are protected anonymous speech and the identities of the commenters should be protected from disclosure under the Dendrite/Cahill lines of cases, as the District of Arizona had done previously in Best Western Int'l v. Doe. (A proposed memorandum in support of the motion was denied as redundant of the motion itself, while the original oversized motion was allowed.) On April 18, 2013, and again on May 7, 2013, the court ordered plaintiff Prenda Law to file a corporate disclosure statement. The docket reflects no record of response by Prenda Law. On  May 15, 2013, DieTrollDie.com filed a notice of non-opposition to the motion to quash, noting that Prenda Law had not served an answering memorandum. On May 16, the court issued an order quashing the subpoena.

On May 10, 2013, Cooper and Godfread filed an opposition to Prenda Law's motion to dismiss the counterclaim and motion to strike the affirmative defenses. Defendants argue that plaintiffs are precluded from further litigating the merits of the defendant's counterclaims following a widely-reported case in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where a judge made a judicial finding that AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13 were created "for the sole purpose of litigating copyright-infringement lawsuits," and that Prenda Law's principals "stole the identity of Alan Cooper," and "fraudulently signed the copyright assignment . . . using Alan Cooper's signature." The court in that case sanctioned Prenda Law and its principals following their invocation of the Fifth Amendment to questions concerning their business practices. The defendants further argued that the counterclaims satisfy the pleading standard under Bell Atlantic v. Twombly by giving the plaintiff fair notice of the claims against it, and that striking the affirmative defenses under FRCP 12(f) is inappropriate as the pleading standards of Twombly have not been applied to affirmative defenses.

Also on May 10, 2013, defendants Cooper and Godfread filed a motion opposing plaintiff's motion to remand the case back to state court. The motion argues that plaintiff made a material misrepresentation in its motion to remand by claiming the original complaint was amended to add Minnesota plaintiff Alpha Law Firm, thus breaking the court's diversity jurisdiction. The defendants argue that the amended complaint was invalid because it was filed in violation of Illinois rules, which require leave of the court to amend a complaint after service of the complaint on defendants. In support of this, the defendants attach an affidavit of the St. Clair County Clerk that accepted the amended complaint, noting that the attorney for Prenda Law filing the amended complaint claimed that the defendants had not been served with the original complaint, and that was the reason the court accepted the complaint with motion for leave. The defendants claim that this was a knowing misrepresentation, as service had been made in fact and that a principal of Prenda Law called Godfread shortly after service, but before the amended complaint was filed. Defendants further argue that the motion to remand was filed too late, under 28 U.S.C. § 1447.

On May 20, 2013, plaintiff Prenda Law filed a motion in opposition of the motion to dismiss under Minnesota's anti-SLAPP statute. Plaintiff argues that the Minnesota statute does not apply to the action because there is no evidence that the statements were made in Minnesota. Prenda Law also argues that Illinois choice-of-law provisions should prevent application of the Minnesota statute, that application of the anti-SLAPP statute fails on the merits, and that federal courts should not be applying this statute, as it is largely procedural under the Erie doctrine. The defendants replied to this motion on May 28th.

On June 6, 2013, the court granted the defendants' March 26th motion to transfer venue and denied the motion to remand to state court, transferring the case to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The court found that the motion to dismiss for improper venue under rule 12(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was waived due to prior responsive pleading, but treated Prenda's failure to respond to the motion for transfer of venue as admission that a different venue was proper. The court also noted the "virtually identical" action Duffy v. Godfread, already in the Northern District. 

In Duffy v. Godfread, the defendants filed a motion to reassign and consolidate these two cases pursuant to the Northern District of Illinois's Local Rule 40.4, which allows for reassignment of a case to a Judge dealing with a case concerning the same transaction or occurrence. In a minute order on June 28, 2013, the court noted that the plaintiff did not object to the motion to consolidate, and the court consolidated the two actions accordingly.

On August 12, 2013, Prenda Law filed a renewed motion to remand, again alleging that Alpha Law Firm was properly joined in the case, and thus broke diversity.

Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Blog
Email
Forum

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • False Light
Court Information & Documents

Jurisdiction: 

  • Illinois

Source of Law: 

  • Illinois

Court Name: 

Illinois Circuit Court, St. Clair County; United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois; United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

Court Type: 

Federal
State

Case Number: 

No. 13-L-75 (St. Clair County Ill.); No. 3:13-cv-207 (S.D. Ill.); 2-13-mc-30 (miscellaneous related action in United States District Court for the District of Arizona); 1:13-cv-04341 (N.D. Ill)

Relevant Documents: