Alleged “copyright troll” attorney Richard Liebowitz is facing sanctions in Colorado federal court for suing a North Carolina television station there instead of its home state, in what the court said “adds to the growing body of law devoted to the question of whether and when to impose sanctions on Mr. Liebowitz alone.”
Liebowitz sued Bahakel Communications Ltd. on behalf of a photographer over WCCBCharlotte.com’s alleged misuse of a picture of a car wreck involving actor Tracy Morgan. Bahakel said it tried to explain the “clear lack of personal jurisdiction” in Colorado, and offered to waive service if Liebowitz refiled, but he never responded.
Liebowitz withdrew from the case when the court struck his amended complaint after learning of a disbarment order from the Northern District of California that also made him ineligible from practicing at the Colorado court. The photographer later dropped his claims.
Bahakel argued Liebowitz sued in Colorado to “avoid having to grapple with precedent adverse to his appearance” in North Carolina, bringing a case he was “ineligible to file and with a clear jurisdictional defect.” Avoiding what he called the “convoluted history of Liebowitz’s eligibility to practice” in Colorado, Judge William J. Martinez found sanctions against Liebowitz appropriate for filing in the wrong court.
“Liebowitz’s pattern of bad-faith and vexatious conduct likely warrants judicial action,” the court said. “As it has in recent copyright cases initiated by Liebowitz, the Court finds that an award of attorney’s fees and costs may be appropriate to compensate Defendant for defending this slapdash action.”
Nothing in the complaint supported Liebowitz’s assertion that Bahakel “resides” in Colorado, and the company didn’t have sufficient contacts with the state to justify jurisdiction, the court said. The court also said Liebowitz’s strategy of suing in the wrong court wasn’t “unique to this case,” noting that “numerous courts around the country” have addressed similar defects in his cases.
Liebowitz also provided “no support” for his argument that Bahakel failed to comply with procedural requirements for its sanctions motion.
“In light of Defendant’s statements and supporting exhibits, it is incomprehensible why Plaintiff and Liebowitz would challenge Defendant’s compliance” with the relevant rule, the court said Feb. 19. “There is seemingly no good faith basis to have done so, and the Court finds that this meritless argument constitutes further grounds supporting an award of sanctions.
The court ordered Liebowitz to justify his conduct by March 10.
Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard LLP represents Bahakel. McConnell Van Pelt LLC represents Liebowitz. Barshay Sanders PLLC represents the plaintiff.
The case is Miller v. Bahakel Commc’ns Ltd., D. Colo., No. 1:20-cv-00791, 2/19/21.