Cases from Northern District of California

Northern District of California
Court Grants Ex Parte Seizure Order In Part under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA)

Defendants Richard Sultanov (“Sultanov”) and Paul Ostling (“Ostling,” collectively, “Defendants”) are former employees of OOO Brunswick Rail Management (“BRM”), a Russian limited liability company. In the Complaint, filed on January 4, 2017, BRM and Brunswick Rail Group Limited (“BRL”) (collectively “Brunswick”) allege that both Sultanov and Ostling misappropriated trade secrets throughout November and December 2016 citing the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) 18 U.S.C. Section 1836 et. seq. as a basis for federal jurisdiction. On this same day, Brunswick filed an ex parte application for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) requesting seizure of Defendants' property containing Brunswick's trade secrets currently in Defendants' possession.

Brunswick alleges further that after observing Sultanov's behavior, which the court describes as “unusually secretive,” Brunswick reviewed his work email account and found that he had “sent several confidential documents to his personal email account without authorization; he then deleted the sent messages and emptied his trash folder.” In its ex parte application, Brunswick asserts that "Sultanov and Ostling have already disclosed and plan to continue to disclose the trade secrets to creditors in order to disadvantage Brunswick in its ongoing negotiations related to Brunswick’s debt restructuring." In reviewing Brunsick's ex parte application, the court found that the record reveals Sultanov was communicating by phone with Ostling (a former employee of Brunswick) and a new representative of one of Brunswick’s creditors, "whom Sultanov was explicitly prohibited from contacting." Brunswick's investigation also brought to light that Ostling received "unauthorized confidential materials at his personal email account (via his former personal assistant, who remained at Brunswick), which he then forwarded to the creditor’s representative and to Sultanov." Brunswick request return of its "company-issued mobile phone and laptop," but Sultanov has refused to comply.

In its decision, issued January 6, 2017, the court granted Brunwick's motion in part and denied in part. The court ordered Rackspace, Inc. and Google, Inc. to preserve all data in Defendants' email accounts. The court also directed Defendants to appear before the court to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be issued against them and "to bring the electronic devices issued to [Sultanov] by Brunswick, including mobile phones and laptops" to surrender to the custody of the court.

UPDATE:
In subsequent motion practice, the court considered Sultanov's motion to dismiss filed on March 9, 2017. First, Sultanov argued that the court lacked both general and specific personal jurisdiction over him. Second, Sultanov asserted that his use of gmail did not confer specific personal jurisdiction over him, that his data is not in California nor would it matter if it were, and Google's terms of service also do not confer personal jurisdiction over Sultanov. Finally, Sultanov argued that exercising specific personal jurisdiction over him is not reasonable because he is a Russian citizen living in Moscow, Russia.

On June 6, 2017, the court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss without leave to amend because Brunswick failed to make a prima facie showing that personal jurisdiction exists. The court examined a $13,000 deposit in Sultanov's California checking account from Ostling around the same time as his alleged misconduct. The court posited that the "timing raises questions about the nature of the payment and its connection to the events underlying Brunswick’s allegations." In spite of this, the court held that "to establish personal jurisdiction in California, Brunswick must show more than the fact that Sultanov received a payment at a bank account that is associated with an address in Monterey. Despite having had the opportunity to conduct jurisdictional discovery— including discovery of Sultanov’s bank accounts and other financial information—Brunswick has not established that the claims in this case arise out of the payment from Ostling." Upon reaching its decision, the court directed the clerk to close to case.

Complaint: http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/ooo-brunswick-rail-mgt-et-al-v-sultanov-et-al/filings/complaint
Seizure Order: http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/ooo-brunswick-rail-mgt-et-al-v-sultanov-et-al/filings/ex-parte-seizure-order
Motion to Dismiss Order: http://tsi.brooklaw.edu/cases/ooo-brunswick-rail-mgt-et-al-v-sultanov-et-al/filings/motion-dismiss-order

Northern District of California
After Husband Convicted in Dupont Economic Espionage Case, Wife Gets Probation

On September 29th, 2015, Judge White of a California federal district court accepted Christina Liew’s plea agreement, sentencing her to three years of probation and restitution to the IRS in the amount of $6 million. As part of the plea agreement, Ms. Liew pled guilty to conspiracy to tampering with evidence. Her Husband, Walter Liew, was the first person to be convicted of economic espionage by a U.S. jury in March 2014 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Walter Liew was found guilty of economic espionage and trade secret theft after selling DuPont's coveted titanium dioxide (TiO2) recipe to Chinese state-owned entities. The highly guarded DuPont recipe was used for both the Oreo cream recipe, as well as the manufacturing of paper and plastics.

Northern District of California
Northern District of California Declines to Allow Plaintiffs to Use Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to Allege Misappropriation

In this case, Plaintiff, Koninklijke Philips N.V. (“Philips”), et al. brought ten causes of action alleging that Dr. Chen, who was an employee of Plaintiff Lumileds Lighting Company, downloaded thousands of files “containing Philips Lumileds’ trade secrets and confidential business information onto a portable storage device." Complaint, ECF 1 ¶ 5. Dr. Chen then became employed by Defendant, Elec-Tech international Co., Ltd (“ETI”) and only six months into this employment, ETI announced two “new high-energy LED lighting products, an amount of time Plaintiffs claim is ‘unprecedented’ in the lighting industry.” Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Elec-Tech International Co., Ltd., no. 14-cv-12737-BLF, 2015 WL 1289984 at *1 (N.D. Ca. March 30, 2015). The Plaintiffs used one claim under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) to bring the other nine state claims. The court here held that the Plaintiffs did not state a CFAA claim upon which relief can be granted and therefore dismissed the nine state law based trade secret claims as well as the CFAA claim.

The Plaintiffs in this case were creative in finding a way to try to get their Trade Secret claims into federal court. However, the court took a strict stand against using the CFAA for misappropriation purposes. The court pointed out that the CFAA is interpreted by courts as “an anti-hacking statute.” Koninklijke Philips N.V. v. Elec-Tech International Co., Ltd., no. 14-cv-12737-BLF, 2015 WL 1289984 at *3 (N.D. Ca. March 30, 2015) (citing United States v. Nosal, 676 F.3d 854, 858 (9th Cir.2012)). Additionally, in the past, the Ninth Circuit has expressly refused to expand this statute to cover misappropriation. Id. While this is a blow for Philips here, this does help the argument for federal trade secret legislation. If courts are going to hold the bar this high for federal statutes that could be expanded to include misappropriation, then federal trade secret legislation is necessary in order to afford trade secret protection by the federal courts as well as state courts.

Northern District of California
ND Calif. Holds CUTSA Pre-Empts Non-Trade Secret Claims

On February 13, 2012, solar panel manufacturer SunPower Corporation filed suit against competitor SolarCity Corporation and former employees who left Sunpower to work at SolarCity. SunPower alleged that SolarCity and SunPower’s former employees misappropriated SunPower’s trade secrets in violation of the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA), Cal. Civ. Code § 3426 et seq. SunPower also alleged a number of causes of action based on misappropriation of what SunPower termed “non-trade secret proprietary information,” including: breach of confidence, conversion, trespass to chattels, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and statutory and common law unfair competition.

On August 2, 2012, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the non-trade secret causes of action based on preemption by CUTSA. The Northern District of California dismissed the non-trade secrets causes of action on December 11, 2012, holding that they were preempted by CUTSA. The parties subsequently stipulated that the action be dismissed with prejudice, with each side bearing its own costs and expenses, including attorneys’ fees. On January 28, 2013, the Court dismissed the action with prejudice and retained jurisdiction to enforce the parties’ settlement agreement.