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Humantech, Inc. v. Ergonomics Pluc, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 31, 2015

HUMANTECH, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ERGONOMICS PLUC, INC., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION

GERALD E. ROSEN, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This copyright infringement and trade secret action is currently before the court on Defendant's motion to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). The case, which arises out of Defendant's alleged unlawful reproduction of Plaintiff's copyrighted ergonomics documents, presents an interesting and difficult question regarding the extent of "minimum contacts, " in both internet and tortious activity contexts, that is necessary to give rise to specific jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant.

II. PERTINENT FACTS

Plaintiff Humantech, Inc., is a Michigan Corporation with its principal place of business in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Pl.'s Compl., Dkt. # 1, ¶ 3. Plaintiff operates in the field of ergonomics - the "scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system." Definition and Domains of Ergonomics, International Ergonomics Association, http://www.iea.cc/whats/index.html (last visited February 19, 2015). Plaintiff specializes in ergonomics "engineering, training, and consulting, " and provides these services to a number of corporate clients. Client List By Industry, Humantech, http://www.humantech.com/about/clients/industry (last visited February 19, 2015). Many of Plaintiff's services draw on its portfolio of intellectual property. Plaintiff owns copyrights for various "manuals, surveys, guidelines, images, and other works in the field of ergonomic risk assessment and workplace improvement, " Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 8, and, via its website, it provides training courses based on these materials and sells licenses to some of them, id. ¶ 10; see Ergonomics Products, Humantech, http://www.humantech.com/products (last visited February 19, 2015).

Defendant Ergonomics Plus, Inc., is an Indiana corporation, with its principal place of business in Grant County, Indiana. Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 4. Like Plaintiff, Defendant provides ergonomic consulting services to its clients, focusing on "preventing [injures in the workplace] and improving human performance for local companies." Ergonomics Plus Website Screenshot, Dkt. # 10-2 (last visited June 17, 2011). Defendant's business primarily focuses on "integrat[ing]... injury prevention specialists... directly into [the] workplace to drive down... risk factors and build a safety culture." Services, Ergonomics Plus, http://ergo-plus.com/services/ (last visited February 19, 2015).

Like Plaintiff, Defendant makes available on its website a number of informational electronic materials related to ergonomics, including guides, handouts, webinars, and a blog. Resources, Ergonomics Plus, http://ergoplus.com/resources/ (last visited February 19, 2015); see also Ergonomics Plus Website Screenshot, Dkt. # 10-2 (last visited June 17, 2011). Defendant also allows visitors of its website to sign up for a free consultation by entering an email address. See id. No products are available for purchase on Defendant's website, nor is there any indication in the record that they ever were in the past. See id. As of 2011, Defendant "offer[ed] services" in 10 states, including Michigan. Ergonomics Plus Website Screenshot, Dkt. # 10-2 (last visited June 17, 2011).[1] No evidence in the record, however, suggests that Defendant has any physical, financial, or other corporate presence in Michigan aside from the presence of some Michigan clients and its contacts with Plaintiff.

The events leading to this litigation began in April 2013, when "[Plaintiff] discovered that [Defendant] had posted blogs on its website... through which visitors could view and download a... lifting guidelines calculator that was very similar in layout and appearance to, and which performed the same function as, [Plaintiff's]... Composite Lifting Guidelines calculator. Decl. of James Good, Dkt. # 10-3, ¶ 3.[2] According to Plaintiff's complaint, the calculator posted on Defendant's website contained metadata identifying one of Plaintiff's employees who had aided in the creation of Plaintiff's calculator.[3] Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 20. Around the same time, Plaintiff also allegedly discovered that Defendant "improperly replicated [Plaintiff's] design guidelines, " which are available on Plaintiff's website, and replicated several other copyrighted materials owned by Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 23-29.

Through the declaration of its President, James Good, Plaintiff asserts several contacts between Plaintiff and Defendant that Plaintiff believes led to the unlawful copying of its intellectual property. First, Defendant purchased an "Applied Industrial Ergonomics" manual from Plaintiff on July 9, 2010. Decl. of James Good ¶¶ 9-10. An invoice for that purchase displays Plaintiff's Ann Arbor, Michigan, address as Plaintiff's business address. See id., Ex. A. As part of that purchase Defendant received a compact disc containing Plaintiff's Composite Lifting Guidelines calculator. Id. ¶ 10.[4] Defendant's employees also attended various online webinars put on by plaintiff between July 2010 and April 2013. Id. ¶¶ 11-12.

In response to Defendant's alleged conduct, Plaintiff sent a cease and desist letter to Defendant on April 26, 2013. Id. ¶ 6. The parties discussed the matter over the next several months, and while they "were unable to fully resolve the issues between them, " Plaintiff was apparently satisfied that the offending material had been removed from Defendant's website until April 2014, when Plaintiff again discovered the allegedly copied lifting guidelines calculator on Defendant's website. Id. ¶¶ 6-8. Plaintiff sent a second cease and desist letter on April 3, 2014, but discussions were less fruitful this time, and Plaintiff commenced this suit on May 30, 2014. See id.; see generally Pl.'s Compl.

Plaintiff's complaint asserts three claims for relief: (1) copyright infringement in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., (2) violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, 17 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq., and (3) violation of the Michigan Uniform Trade Secrets Act, M.C.L. § 445.1901 et seq. Pl.'s Compl. ¶¶ 30-55. On July 29, 2014, Defendant filed the instant motion, asserting that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it due to its lack of contacts with Michigan, the forum state. Dkt. # 6.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Rule 12(b)(2) Standard

On a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2), Plaintiff has the burden of establishing that the exercise of jurisdiction over the defendant is proper. Neogen Corp. v. Neo Gen Screening, Inc., 282 F.3d 883, 887 (6th Cir. 2002). Where, as here, there has been no evidentiary hearing regarding personal jurisdiction, a plaintiff "need only make a prima facie showing of jurisdiction." Id. (quoting CompuServe, Inc. v. Patterson, 89 F.3d 1257, 1262 (6th Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation marks omitted). However, it is insufficient for a plaintiff to merely reassert the allegations contained in its pleadings. Theunissen v. Matthews, 935 F.2d 1454, 1458 (6th Cir. 1991). The plaintiff must articulate specific facts to show that the court has jurisdiction. Id. The court must then consider all of the facts presented in the pleadings and affidavits in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, and does not weigh any contrary assertions offered by the defendant. Intera Corp. v. Henderson, 428 F.3d 605, 614 (6th Cir. 2005). "Courts have three options when faced with motions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2): (1) determine the motion[] based ...


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