Domain name dispute: Angé v. Templer – State court claims

Angé v. Templer
Decided February 21, 2006
No. C 05-05169 WHA, 2006 WL 436139 (N.D.Cal.)

Plaintiffs, an individual and a California corporation named Gap International, Inc., sued in state court for the conversion of the domain name Gapinternational.com. Defendants include the hosting company who took the Plaintiff’s domain name and the Pennsylvania company named Gap International, Inc. the domain was ultimately transferred to. The defendants convinced a state court judge that the action needed to be removed to Federal court by arguing that Plaintiffs claims, although couched in state law claims, really were claims for cybersquatting under the Lanham Act. Before the court was Plaintiff’s motion to remand the case back to state court.

Upon reviewing the briefs, the court agreed with plaintiffs and remanded the case back to state court. While the property at issue is a domain name, not all disputes over them constitute cybersquatting. For instance, there were no claims based on confusion between two domain names. Rather, defendants had taken an asset of the plaintiffs and interfered with a contractual relationship. Specifically, a fifty million dollar business deal had gone sour as a result of the theft and conversion of the domain name.

The court has a particularly good quote regarding the intersection of federal and state claims over domain names:

At bottom, defendant’s arguments suffer from an attempt to translate every issue relating to the Internet into a federal question. The Internet is not a talisman bestowing federal jurisdiction. There remains a place for state courts to determine the rights and responsibilities in the constantly evolving world of Internet law. Congress has not indicated an intent to strip state courts of this role. While the Lanham Act bestows federal jurisdiction, it does so only over claims that explicitly fall under its scope.

Defendants were required to pay plaintiff’s costs in bringing the remand motion, which were $2,600.00.

Analysis: This case is a reminder that state law claims can exist in the context of domain name disputes. While Federal jurisdiction may be appropriate for some claims, here it was not what the plaintiffs wanted. It seems clear that they wanted a state court to hear its claim and award it monetary damages for the domain name theft since it caused fifty million dollars in funding to fall through. Defendants clearly wanted the court to view it through the lens of cybersquatting, which particular crime they may be innocent of. Conversion, though, is a state law claim which properly should be before a state court if there is no other reason for Federal jurisdiction.

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