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Reliant Care Group, LLC v. Reliant Management Group, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 19, 2014

RELIANT CARE GROUP, LLC, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RELIANT MANAGEMENT GROUP, LLC, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CATHERINE D. PERRY, District Judge.

This case involves the alleged infringement of a trademark. Defendant Reliant Management Group, LLC, asks that I dismiss plaintiffs' amended complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. The defendant's website establishes sufficient contacts with Missouri, such that specific jurisdiction here is proper. The "effects" test provides an alternative reason for jurisdiction, because the effects of defendant's alleged trademark dilution are felt in Missouri. I will deny the motion to dismiss.

Background[1]

This case arises from defendant's alleged unlawful use in the Missouri healthcare market of the "Reliant Care Group" trademark.[2] The mark is held by plaintiff Reliant Care Group, LLC, and licensed to two LLCs it owns: Reliant Care Management Company and Reliant Care Rehabilitation Services (collectively the plaintiffs). Plaintiffs assert claims for federal trademark infringement, dilution, and false designation of origin under the Lanham Act, [3] violation of Missouri's antidilution statute, [4] and common-law trademark infringement and unfair competition. Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief to prevent further use of the term "Reliant" in Missouri, compensatory damages, lost profits, exemplary damages, costs, and attorney's fees.

Each of the plaintiffs is registered and operates in Missouri. Plaintiff Reliant Care Management manages healthcare facilities and maintains an informational website at www.ReliantCareMgmt.com.[5] Plaintiff Reliant Care Rehabilitative Services is a therapy management company specializing in skilled nursing facilities and hospital-based rehabilitation management services. It maintains a website at www.ReliantCareRehab.com. The plaintiffs have been operating in Missouri since 1994.

Defendant Reliant Management Group, LLC, is a limited liability company not registered in Missouri and not maintaining its principal office in Missouri.[6] It operates a website at www.Reliant-Rehab.com. Defendant began using the name "Reliant Rehabilitation" in 2003, and it registered a service mark with that phrase in 2008.[7]

Plaintiffs advertise their services and available employment positions on several websites. Plaintiffs allege that some of these websites also advertise positions with Reliant Rehabilitation in the same areas where plaintiffs operate; this has caused confusion within the rehabilitative services industry in Missouri in instances from August to October 2013.

On January 12, 2011, plaintiffs received a letter from defendant's attorney. The letter stated that defendant's services under the "RELIANT REHABILITATION" registered mark "are offered in 16 states, with Missouri soon to be added...." The letter demanded that plaintiffs cease their use of the word "Reliant." Doc. 1-2. Plaintiffs responded to that letter in February 2011 with their own letter informing defendant of their own prior use of the Reliant name in Missouri since 1994. Plaintiffs now bring this suit to enforce their mark.

Defendant argues that its contacts with Missouri are insufficient to establish personal jurisdiction. It avers that never in Missouri has it: registered to do business, had an agent for service of process, had any employees, owned any real property, solicited business, had an office, transacted business, maintained records, or used its registered mark RELIANT REHABILITATION. In its reply brief, defendant adds that its "sister company Reliant Pro Rehab, LLC is licensed by Defendant to and does use the mark in Missouri." Defendant further admits that Reliant Pro Rehab has been registered to conduct business in Missouri since October 15, 2013. Defendant maintains, however, that all service contracts in Missouri are between Reliant Pro Rehab and its customers, and none includes defendant.

Plaintiffs' attorney, Lori Schmidt, submitted an affidavit stating that she telephoned the rehabilitation center at Heritage Park Skilled Care, based in Rolla, Missouri, and was told that the facility was "Reliant Rehabilitation." Schmidt also entered "Reliant, " "Rehabilitation, " and "Missouri" into an internet search engine. This query returned the website www.Reliant-Rehab.com/Careers; that website's "Positions Page" listed twelve employment positions available in Missouri, including ones in Ballwin and Rolla. The website also included an application that could be completed online and the contact information for a recruiter whose territory included Missouri. The "About Us" page for the website stated, "WELCOME TO RELIANT MANAGEMENT GROUP, L.L.C. (Reliant Rehabilitation') WEB SITE.... This Site is controlled by RELIANT MANAGEMENT GROUP L.L.C. from its office within the state of Louisiana." Doc. 9-2 at pp. B-10 to B-11.

Legal Standard

It does not appear that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ever held that personal jurisdiction in a trademark case should be governed by Federal Circuit law rather than the law of the regional circuit. I will therefore apply Eighth Circuit standards to the jurisdictional question presented here.

Rule 12(b) (2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a preanswer motion to dismiss, such as was filed here, for "lack of personal jurisdiction." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (2). When a defendant challenges the existence of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff ultimately has the burden of proving the existence of jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. See Epps v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 327 F.3d 642, 646-47 (8th Cir. 2003). However, when the court evaluates a Rule 12(b) (2) motion after some jurisdictional discovery but without an evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed issues of fact, the plaintiff generally needs only to make a prima facie showing that jurisdiction exists. See Epps, 327 F.3d at 646-47 (8th Cir. 2003) ("While the plaintiffs bear the ultimate burden of proof, jurisdiction need not be proved by a preponderance of the evidence until trial or until the court holds an evidentiary hearing.").

Here, the jurisdictional facts are disputed and there has been no evidentiary hearing, so the prima facie standard applies. When applying the prima facie standard, the court must accept the uncontroverted allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and must resolve any factual conflicts in the evidence in the plaintiff's ...


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