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Group-A Autosports, Inc. v. Billman

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 9, 2014

GROUP-A AUTOSPORTS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
CRYSTAL BILLMAN, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO TRANSFER

JUDITH GAIL DEIN, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This action arises out of defendant Crystal Billman's ("Billman") alleged use of plaintiff Group-A Autosports, Inc.'s ("Group-A") trademarks without Group-A's permission. By it's complaint, Group-A has brought claims against Billman for counterfeit marks, in violation of 35 U.S.C. §1114(1)(a) (Count I), and for false designation of origin, in violation of 15 U.S.C. §1125(a) (Count II). Group-A is seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages.[1]

Billman is proceeding pro se. In response to the complaint, Billman filed a letter (Docket No. 9), and then a formal motion (Docket No. 13), requesting that the matter be transferred to the United States District Court in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as she resides in that state.[2] Group-A has treated the motion as one brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), and has opposed the motion on the grounds that the defendant "has not offered any evidence in support of her motion that overcomes the presumption accorded plaintiff's choice of forum, namely, Massachusetts." (Docket No. 14).

The complaint does not identify any contacts that the plaintiff may have with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Thus, it is alleged that Group-A is a California corporation with a principal place of business in that state. (Compl. ¶ 1). It is alleged generally, however, that it markets its products "throughout the United States thru its web site..., online stores, and brick and mortar speciality stores." (Compl. ¶ 13). Similarly, according to the complaint, the only place where Billman has a place of business is in Gates, North Carolina, although she does internet business throughout the United States. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 4, 17). Billman has confirmed that the address in the complaint is her address. (Docket Nos. 9, 13).[3]

For all the reasons described below, this court finds that transfer is proper to the Eastern District of North Carolina and that the interests of convenience and fairness would best be served by transferring the action. Accordingly, Billman's motion to transfer (Docket No. 13) is ALLOWED.

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

For purposes of this motion, the court accepts the allegations of the complaint as true. The plaintiff, Group-A, is a California corporation having a principal place of business at 2050 5th Street, Norco, California 92860. (Compl. ¶ 1). Group-A is the sole owner of U.S. Reg. No. 3, 049, 785 for the mark SKUNK2 RACING and logo that was registered on January 24, 2006. (Compl. ¶ 6). Group-A is also the sole owner of U.S. Reg. No. 3, 075, 513 for the mark SKUNK2 RACING (stylized) that was registered on April 4, 2006. (Compl. ¶ 8). In addition, Group-A is the owner of all right, title, and interest in "Unregistered Marks, " which include the highly distinctive marks SKUNK2, SKUNK2 RACING, and a Race Track Logo. (Compl. ¶ 10). Group-A has been using its registered and unregistered marks "in connection with design, development, marketing, and sale [of] aftermarket high performance automobile and automobile engine parts throughout the United States." (Id.).

Group-A "markets and sells its aftermarket automobile and automobile engine parts to consumers throughout the United States thru its web site (www.skunk2.com), online stores, and brick and mortar specialty stores." (Compl. ¶ 13). Group-A's SKUNK2 products are utilized by "top street cars" and race cars, including Group-A's own race vehicles. (Compl. ¶ 14). Group-A is also involved in various forms of motorsports through technical partnerships and sponsorships. (Id.). It claims that it has invested millions of dollars in the advertising of the registered and unregistered marks. (Compl. ¶ 15).

Defendant Crystal Billman is an individual having a principal place of business at 96 Hardy Askew Road, Gates, North Carolina 27937. (Compl. ¶ 2). Billman lists this as her personal address as well. (Docket No. 13). At the time the complaint was filed, Billman allegedly had "an online store on E-Bay offering for sale counterfeit automobile and automobile engine parts and packaging using and displaying" Group-A's registered and unregistered marks. (Compl. ¶ 17). Group-A did not give Billman permission to use the registered and unregistered marks in connection with the marketing and/or sale of any product. (Compl. ¶¶ 20, 29). Group-A alleges that Billman had actual knowledge of its registered and unregistered marks prior to marketing and selling the counterfeit products. (Compl. ¶¶ 23, 32).

Additional factual details relevant to this court's analysis are set forth below where appropriate.

III. ANALYSIS Through her motion, Billman asks that the court transfer the action to the Eastern

District of North Carolina. 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) provides that "[f]or the convenience of parties and witnesses, in the interest of justice, a district court may transfer any civil action to any other district or division where it might have been brought[.]" 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). "Accordingly, a court must determine first whether the case might have been brought' in the suggested transferee district and, if so, whether convenience and the interest of justice favor transfer." World Energy Alts., LLC v. Settlemyre Indus., Inc., 671 F.Supp.2d 215, 217 (D. Mass. 2009). Implicit in Billman's motion to transfer is that she ...


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