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Life Technologies Corp. v. Govindaraj

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

July 24, 2019

LIFE TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION, A DELAWARE CORPORATION, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
KRISHNAMURTHY GOVINDARAJ, Former President, Life Technologies Corporation, a Maryland Corporation, Party-in-Interest - Appellant, and LIFE TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION, Montgomery County, Maryland, Defendant.

          Argued: March 21, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt. Roger W. Titus, Senior District Judge. (8:10-cv-03527-RWT)

         ARGUED:

          Michael R. Williams, BUSH SEYFERTH & PAIGE PLLC, Kalamazoo, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Meghan Katherine Canty, THEODORA ORINGHER PC, Costa Mesa, California, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Brittney D. Kohn, BUSH SEYFERTH & PAIGE PLLC, Troy, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Matthew D. Murphey, THEODORA ORINGHER PC, Costa Mesa, California, for Appellee.

          Before AGEE, KEENAN, and QUATTLEBAUM, Circuit Judges.

          BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, Circuit Judge

         The plaintiff in this case, Life Technologies Corp., filed a complaint against another corporation of the same name (the defendant corporation, or the defendant), alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(A). The plaintiff obtained an injunction against the defendant corporation and its officers, including the corporation's president, Dr. Krishnamurthy Govindaraj, who was not named as a defendant.[1] After entry of default judgment against the corporation and years of damages-related discovery, the district court awarded more than $1.7 million in damages, as well as more than $555, 000 in attorneys' fees, against both the defendant corporation and Govindaraj personally. In holding Govindaraj personally liable for the money judgment despite his status as a non-party, the district court emphasized Govindaraj's position as an officer of the defendant corporation and his continuing attempts to obstruct the litigation "in defiance of orders of [the] court."

         Upon our review, we conclude that the district court erred in entering judgment against Govindaraj personally when he was not named as a party or otherwise brought into the case by service of process. We additionally hold that the court did not abuse its discretion in finding Govindaraj in contempt of court. We therefore affirm in part, and vacate in part, the district court's judgment. We remand the case for the court to determine whether any of the damages and fees award entered against Govindaraj is attributable to his contempt of court.

         I.

         In December 2010, plaintiff Life Technologies Corp., a Delaware corporation, filed a two-count complaint against the defendant, Life Technologies Corp., a Maryland corporation, alleging that the defendant corporation was infringing on the plaintiff's registered trademark, "Life Technologies." Among other things, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant corporation, plaintiff's competitor in the field of scientific products and services, improperly was using the "Life Technologies" mark as part of various internet domain names to market the defendant's goods and services.

         The plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as treble damages under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(A). It is undisputed that the plaintiff did not name Govindaraj as a defendant, and did not refer to him in any allegations of the complaint.[2]

         In March 2012, the district court entered default judgment against the defendant corporation. The court additionally held that Govindaraj had acted in bad faith during the litigation, observing that his statements on behalf of the defendant corporation were "laughably incorrect" and "absurd." The court entered an order enjoining the defendant corporation, and Govindaraj and his wife as corporate officers, from engaging in further activity infringing on the plaintiff's registered trademark. The court also held that based on the defendant's willful conduct, the case was "exceptional," entitling the plaintiff to payment of its costs and attorneys' fees. The court directed that the plaintiff be awarded damages from the defendant corporation, including treble damages, in an amount to be determined following additional discovery in the case.[3]

         Around the same time, Govindaraj dissolved the defendant corporation without notice to the corporation's creditors. In the months that followed, Govindaraj violated the court's injunction and continually attempted to obstruct the discovery process related to determining a damages award. Among other things, in violation of the discovery proceedings, Govindaraj transferred some internet domain names to foreign ...


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