Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Another reason to bring state-law claims: where there’s no “advertising or promotion”

AstroTel, Inc. v. Verizon Florida, LLC, 2012 WL 1581596 (M.D. Fla.)

AstroTel provides basic local telephone services, enhanced services (e.g., voice mail), and Internet access to Florida residences and small to mid-size businesses.  Its telecom network provides services to more than half of the state, and it directly competes with Verizon.  Significant infrastructure is required to provide phone services, and Verizon currently owns the only facilities that can do so in AstroTel’s operating area, so AstroTel therefore leases access.  AstroTel sued Verizon for, basically, making it difficult for AstroTel to operate.  I’ll skip many of the claims, but among them were that Verizon disparaged and misrepresented AstroTel’s products to the public.

Verizon successfully argued that the alleged misrepresentations weren’t made in advertising or promotion as required by the Lanham Act, because they weren’t sufficiently disseminated: AstroTel only alleged a few incidents, apparently from individual salespeople.  AstroTel nonetheless successfully pled tortious interference with contract by pleading that Verizon knowingly interfered with its relationship with at least one customer, causing that customer to switch.  (The general allegations of interference with prospective business relations, however, failed because AstroTel didn’t identify a specific prospective relationship but rather complained about its ability to do business in general.)  Likewise, the state-law unfair competition claim survived: Verizon’s allegedly disparaging statements to AstroTel customers that AstroTel was a “useless middleman” etc. could have confused customers about the nature of AstroTel’s business.  The allegedly false representations also were sufficient for AstroTel to plead business defamation/disparagement.

No comments: