The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
Patrick Austermuehle and Andrew Murphy were selected by Super Lawyers as Rising Stars
Published on:

Although the #MeToo movement gained significant ground with prominent actresses in Hollywood, they’ve made it clear that Tinsel Town is hardly the only place where this kind of alleged abuse and misogyny take place. On the other side of the country, a recent investigation into James Levine, the former music director of the Met Opera in New York City, found that he had been guilty of sexual misconduct throughout his career, particularly towards young singers and artists over whose careers he had significant control. Levine is disputing these findings and had sued the Met for libel.

Levine worked at the Met for more than 40 years and had been hailed as one of the most beloved conductors of all time, but shortly after celebrating the milestone anniversary, Levine began to suffer from health problems that interfered with his abilities to fulfill all his duties as music director. He had to step down as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and suffered an injury that prevented him from conducting at the Met for two years, although he was kept on as music director. After his return to the podium, singers and musicians had reported that Levine had recently become erratic and hard to follow in his conducting.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, has allegedly been trying to get Levine to step down as music director of the Met for the past few years. Levine was just recently fired after a company investigation found significant evidence that Levine was guilty of sexual misconduct, both before and during his time at the Met. The investigation came after reports of such misconduct were published in prominent newspapers. Continue reading

Published on:

Non-competition clauses are common in the technology industry and have recently made headlines again.  IBM filed a suit against its ex-executive with allegations that her new position violates a year-long non-compete agreement.  This has allowed for the company to implement similar efforts, in order to increase diversity.

The executive that worked for IBM for a period of greater than two decades, is now being sued on the basis of violating a non-compete agreement. She was said to have “abruptly resigned” making it all seem more like a ploy.  Being a senior, she had knowledge of sensitive material and secrets that included recruitment strategies, plans, and initiatives.  It is alleged that this information will be also utilized in her work performed for Microsoft and is, therefore, a violation of terms. IBM complained that, whether intentional or not, using and disclosing, its confidential and sensitive information would place the company at a competitive disadvantage. According to them, it is “inevitable” that she will not be able to do so.  They further went on to state that she possesses “non-public diversity data, strategies, and initiatives — can cause real and immediate competitive harm.”

IBM sued in their filing, within a New York Federal Court, and succeeded in getting a restraining order preventing their ex-employee, who led diversity efforts from joining Microsoft.  The conditions which IBM wish to impose are rather broad. It included a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction to prevent her from working for a year, in any position, anywhere in the world and for any company that is a competitor to IBM.

Continue reading

Published on:

When the millionaire owner of a thriving business dies without a will, leaving only a wife and a child from a previous marriage to sort out his possessions, chances are things are going to get ugly.

That’s exactly what they did in a recent case before the Illinois First District Appellate Court, which held that a law firm hired to represent the deceased’s widow and the estate also allegedly owed a duty to the estate itself and can be liable to the estate for alleged legal malpractice if the allegations in the malpractice lawsuit pan out.

The estate case was hotly contested and was ultimately settled. Alma and her counsel denied all of the claims and the court made no finding of wrongdoing.

The appellate decision outlines the disputed facts at issue as follows. Scott H. died intestate in 2005, leaving millions of dollars in assets including the then successful Chicago Minibus Travel, Inc., which became the chief source of dispute between his only heirs, his widow Alma and son, Kyle, from a previous marriage. Alma was appointed the Administrator of Scott’s estate and hired the defendant law firm to represent her.

Continue reading

Published on:

Fox Broadcasting Co. has come out swinging against a $30-million lawsuit by the estate of Muhammad Ali for unauthorized use of the late boxing legend’s image in a 2017 Super Bowl promotional spot entitled “The Greatest.”

Last October, Muhammad Ali Enterprises, LLC (MAE), filed a complaint against Fox in the Northern District of Illinois alleging violation of Ali’s publicity rights under Illinois and federal law. The parties later agreed to transfer the case to the Northern District of California, where both parties are located.

In its motion to dismiss filed January 16 in Oakland federal court, Fox claims the suit is barred by the First Amendment, Illinois and California statute, and preempted by the federal Copyright Act. Its primary defense is that the Super Bowl, and Ali himself, are matters of public interest and therefore exempt from statutory publicity protections, and also that the spot is exempt as part of a sports broadcast.

Fox argues that Illinois has no meaningful relationship to the case, therefore its law should not apply. Further, Fox asserts that Illinois choice-of-law rules allow it to invoke California anti-SLAPP law, which prohibits legal actions designed to chill exercise of free speech. (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.) Continue reading

Published on:

Would you buy makeup that had been opened and used by someone else?

According to a recent class action consumer lawsuit, that’s allegedly what Ulta Beauty, a multi-million-dollar cosmetics company, has been doing. When people return cosmetics to the company for a refund, for any reason, store employees were allegedly instructed by managers to repackage and re-seal the returned items, then put them back on the shelves to be resold.

The allegations started with a Twitter user who claims to be a former employee of Ulta. According to a series of tweets she posted, the alleged practice of repackaging and re-sealing used products extended to all the company’s products, from makeup to fragrance to haircare tools. After she posted these accusations, other Twitter users, also claiming to have worked for Ulta, jumped to back up her claims, while others rejected them.

While the social media storm was no doubt a PR nightmare for Ulta, the Bolingbrook-based company now has a bigger problem on its hands: a consumer class action lawsuit seeking to represent anyone who has ever purchased products from Ulta. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Chicago by Kimberley Laura Smith-Brown, who lives in Los Angeles and says she has bought dozens of Ulta products over the past six months, including eyeliner and lip balm.

While the complaint acknowledges that using cosmetics that have been opened and used by someone else is unsanitary, the lawsuit is more concerned with Ulta’s unjust enrichment as a result of this business practice. Aside from allegedly gaining the additional funds from selling the same products twice, the lawsuit also wants to sue Ulta for allegedly deceiving customers about the quality of the cosmetics they were buying. If Ulta’s products really were second hand, then they shouldn’t be charging full price for them, according to the lawsuit. Continue reading

Published on:

In this blog post, we will look at the federal courts and the need to evaluate the protection of customer lists as trade secrets. Contextually speaking, the federal statute is in place for the purposes of misappropriation.

In order to meet the standard of a misappropriation, there must be:

(1) acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means or  (2) disclosure or use of a trade secret of another without express or implied consent. When the alleged misappropriation is based on disclosure or use, the person who disclosed the information must have: “(i) used improper means to acquire knowledge of the trade secret; (ii) at the time of the disclosure or use, knew or had reason to know that the trade secret was; (I) derived from or through a person who had used improper means to acquire the trade secret; (II) acquired under circumstances giving rise to a duty to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret or limit the use of the trade secret; or (III) derived from or through a person who owed a duty to the person seeking relief to maintain the secrecy of the trade secret or limit the use of the trade secret; or (iii) before a material change of the position of the person, knew or had reason to know that—(I) the trade secret was a trade secret; and (II) knowledge of the trade secret had been acquired by accident or mistake.” 18 U.S.C. § 1839(5).

Customer lists can be considered one of the most valuable assets that a company can have.  Theft or trade of such information can cost some companies up to hundreds of thousands, if not millions.  That is why there has been a move to guard the trading of this within the United States of America.  The scope of the internet and the way we interact in the current climate is affected by digital marketing, online purchasing and through the selling of products via social media.  This often requires tracking of customers via a list or database of clientele that is accumulated by business over the years.

In the past, violations have been met with a lawsuit.  Now there has been a change in legislation and at a Federal level.  Misappropriation now equals a breach of law in the absence of a suit.  Previously, such claims were subject to diversity in legislation. Under the legislation, a company whose customer list is misused is entitled to equitable relief, actual damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. Continue reading

Published on:

Uber settled its legal fight after being accused of plotting to steal self-driving technology, which is considered to be the way of the future. It took more than four days in court, which included arguments and testimony. An overall case worth stood at $245 million.  The settlement was mainly concerning the trade secrets. The case was between Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and could be considered one of the most intense legal fights of Silicon Valley. This is especially since it concerns a startup vs. one of the biggest technology giants’ parent. The overall potential of the industry is trillion-dollars that are predicted to transform transportation.

The case showcased what many in Silicon Valley normally struggle with: the sudden rise of start-ups, the workings of the rich companies, the rivalries, and competition for talent.  Continue reading

Published on:

When Google’s ride-sharing company, Waymo, sued Uber for using Waymo’s trade secrets, it used as evidence the lidar (light detection and ranging) sensor Uber was designing for its self-driving vehicles. Waymo saw the design by accident when the manufacturer (who was making the lidar systems for both Uber and Waymo) accidentally sent Waymo a mock-up of Uber’s lidar system. Although Uber claimed the design was fairly standard, Waymo alleged it was too similar to their own to be a coincidence.

According to Waymo, Uber allegedly obtained knowledge of Google’s self-driving trade secrets when they bought Otto, a self-driving truck company. Otto was founded by Anthony Levandowski, who used to work as an engineer for Google to develop their self-driving technology. Just a few months after he started Otto, his company was bought by Uber and Levandowski became an employee of Waymo’s competitor.

Waymo alleged files regarding their self-driving technology went missing from Google’s servers around the time Levandowski quit his job with Google. The fact that he started working for Uber a short time later, and that Uber’s self-driving technology looked suspiciously like their own, was enough to prompt Waymo to suspect that Levandowski leaving Google to start his own company, which was then bought by Uber, was all part of an elaborate plot for Uber to steal trade secrets from Google. Continue reading

Published on:

Owners of a cat became rich by marketing their cat as a “Grumpy Cat.” As a result, all sorts of products including toys and even a movie were made in the name of being a visibly, unhappy cat.  In a one of a kind suit and type of case, copyright infringement was discussed when it came to a cat.

The corporate entity that handled all licensing for Grumpy-cat took a beverage company to suit for violations made in the business of selling coffee.  The beverage company had a valid contract that was enforceable and permitted the production of “Grumpy Cat.” Problems came when Grenade Beverage decided to extend that agreement to a line of Grumpy Cat-branded ground coffee without Grumpy Cat Ltd.’s prior consent and approval.  As such the question arose as to the infringement of trademark and of copyright.  The lawsuit began over the sale of coffee that was unlicensed and marketed under its name. The time span of litigation lasted for over two years. In addition, there was a failure to provide an accounting of sales and profits with no pay a percentage of profits.  Shirts were also being sold in the name of that coffee.

This is one of those cases where a lot of time and money that went into having these contracts and joint ventures chartered.  However, it was all done for a cat and in the name of its face.  Prior to the commencement of litigation, exactly all terms and conditions had been laid out for every variation of the Grump Cat image and brand each time they wanted a new item branded with the cat’s name.  The brand name had even extended to memes.  Internet culture shapes behavior and the culture that we are talking about.  People had started to co-opt into memes which have now become the talk of legal rulings.  Once upon a time, memes were free and harmless.  Back then, no one would admit to owning anything. The intellectual property associated with Grumpy Cat has changed all that.  Any time that someone wants to co-opt a meme, it must be legally sanctioned.  Continue reading

Published on:

The already expensive battle to acquire engineers with knowledge and experience in the field of self-driving cars just cost Uber another estimated $245 million, not including the money they spent defending their legal battle against Waymo for a year before the parties agreed on a settlement.

As engineers get closer to developing the technology necessary to produce viable self-driving automobiles, it’s becoming increasingly clear that, not only is self-driving technology the future, it is going to be a very lucrative future. It has driven up the costs of engineers in the field to unprecedented heights, but Uber may have topped them all by spending $590 million to buy an entire self-driving truck company from Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer. The terms of the agreement were for Levandowski to receive an additional $250 million in Uber stock if Otto reached certain performance goals, but before that could happen, Levandowski was fired from Uber for refusing to cooperate in the investigation into the alleged stolen Google files.

Levandowski and Travis Kalanick, the founder and former CEO of Uber, had allegedly been hanging out and brainstorming ideas for self-driving technology even when Levandowski was still working for Google. Kalanick recently testified in court that he had wanted to hire Levandowski, but Levandowski wanted to break out on his own. Continue reading