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Sending Cease-and-Desist Letters is Insufficient to Establish Personal Jurisdiction Under Maryland’s Long-Arm Statute
Music Makers Holdings, LLC v. Maria Sarro
The United States District Court for the District of Maryland granted Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Plaintiff is a Maryland company called Music Makers Holdings. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant Maria Sarro, a citizen of New York who operated a summer camp called “Bach to Rock” in Garden City, New York. Plaintiff filed suit, alleging various counts of trademark infringement by claiming that Defendant knew Plaintiff also planned to open various summer schools in Maryland called “Bach to Rock.” In response, Defendant moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Prior to the start of the lawsuit, Defendant had sent two letters to Plaintiff requesting that Plaintiff cease-and-desist its use of the name “Bach to Rock” for its music schools. Additionally, both the Defendant and the Plaintiff had applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office for federal registration of the trademark.
Maryland’s long-arm statute authorizes the state to assert all the jurisdiction granted under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. Yet, the statute provides that a Maryland court may only exercise jurisdiction over a person who performs work or service in the state, causes tortious injury in the state by an act or omission in the state, or causes tortious injury in the state or outside the state through an act or omission done outside the state if he/she regularly solicits Maryland business. MD. CODE ANN., CTS. & JUD. PROC. § 6-103(b)(1), (3), (4) (2010). Since the Defendant did not fit into any of the above categories, Judge Titus concluded Maryland lacked jurisdiction over the Defendant.
First, the Court ruled on an issue of first impression in Maryland and in the Fourth Circuit. The circuit had never before considered whether sending cease-and-desist letters was sufficient to invoke personal jurisdiction in Maryland. Looking to case law, the Court held in accordance with other circuits that merely sending cease-and-desist letters alone does not establish personal jurisdiction in a trademark infringement case. That Defendant sent such communications to the Plaintiff does not mean the Defendant conducted business transactions in Maryland. The Court reasoned, consistent with outside case law, that asserting personal jurisdiction in such an instance would “offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” Int’l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945).
Second, that Defendant received and responded to emails and phone calls from Maryland residents who were trying to contact the Plaintiff does not mean the Defendant purposefully availed herself of conducting activities in Maryland. Rather, the Court noted that the correspondence revealed that rather than soliciting Maryland business, Defendant’s responses rebuffed Maryland business. A handful of Maryland residents had emailed or called the Defendant to inquire about the “Bach to Rock” school, and the Defendant told the Maryland residents that they were probably confusing her New York summer music camp with Maryland schools. No Maryland resident ever attended the Defendant’s New York camp. As a result, the Court concluded that Defendant’s email and phone correspondence with Maryland residents were isolated occurrences that would not support personal jurisdiction.
Third, the Court held that Defendant’s mere act of posting information on her website (bactorock.com), which then became accessible to Maryland residents via the internet, was also insufficient to support jurisdiction because the website information did not reveal Defendant “acted with the manifest intent of targeting Marylanders.” Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy CTRS., Inc., 334 F.3d 390, 399 (4th Cir. 2003). In determining that the Defendant’s website was passive (rather than active enough to support personal jurisdiction), the Court considered the following factors: visitors to the website could not submit an online application to the music school, make credit card payments, or participate in live chats. Thus, the Court held Defendant’s website did not support personal jurisdiction.
Noting that the Defendant did not expressly aim any conduct at Marylanders, did not target Marylanders, rejected all telephone and email inquiries from Marylanders, and never enrolled a Marylander at her New York summer music camp, the Court dismissed all of the Plaintiff’s claims for lack of personal jurisdiction.
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