Prenda Law’s libel lawsuit against Minnesota attorney Paul Godfread and his client, Alan Cooper, has been transferred to federal court in Chicago.
Chief Judge David Herndon last week issued an order that granted the defendants’ request to transfer the matter from southern Illinois’ federal court to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and denied the firm’s request to remand it back to state court.
Herndon’s decision to transfer the Chicago law firm’s lawsuit marks the second time it has been transferred since it was filed in February in the St. Clair County Circuit Court.
In its suit, Prenda Law asserts that Godfread, Cooper and several John Does “belong to a community of Internet ‘commentators’ fearful of being identified and have falsely accused Plaintiff of, among other things, criminal offenses; want of integrity in the discharge of employment; lack of ability in its profession; and the commission of fornication and adultery.”
The firm claims that the defendants made the allegedly libelous statements as a result of Prenda Law’s representation of plaintiffs in copyright infringement suits.
The defendants contend that Prenda Law attorneys Paul Duffy, John Steele and Paul Hansmeier “have developed a lucrative practice monetizing allegations of copyright infringement of pornographic films.”
Godfread and Cooper in March filed a motion to dismiss the suit for improper venue, or in the alternative, to transfer it to Chicago’s federal court. In April, they filed motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim and pursuant to Minnesota’s Anti-SLAPP statute.
That same month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams granted the defendants’ request to stay discovery pending the resolution of their motions to dismiss. According to electronic court records, it appears that Herndon’s June 6 order resolved the other motions to dismiss.
Although Herndon granted the transfer request, he wrote in his order that the defendants “waived their ability to bring their arguments in a” motion to dismiss for improper venue because they filed a responsive pleading first.
He noted that while Prenda Law “has since filed numerous motions of its own,” the firm “chose not to respond to defendants’ instant motion to dismiss for improper venue.”
As such, Herndon wrote that "the Court deems the plaintiff’s failure to respond as an admission of the merits of defendants’ motion” and determined that transfer “is warranted in the ‘interest of justice.’”
The allegations in the suit “have virtually no connection to this district,” Herndon wrote in his order, explaining that Prenda Law is based in Chicago and the named defendants live in Minnesota.
He also noted that “a virtually identical, first-filed action is currently pending in the Northern District of Illinois.”
That suit -- Duffy v. Godfread, et al. -- was filed in February in Cook County Circuit Court and was removed to Chicago’s federal court later that month.
As Herndon pointed out in his order, the suit in the Northern District includes “virtually identical” claims as the one filed in the Southern District.
The Northern District suit, however, lists Duffy as the plaintiff while the Southern District suit was brought by Prenda Law.
Court records also show that the two suits have been proceeding on a similar pace as well.
For instance, the day after Herndon granted the defendants’ motion to stay discovery pending resolution of their motion to dismiss, the judge presiding over the suit in the Northern District – U.S. Judge John Darrah -- issued an order doing the same.
Last month, parties in both suits filed briefs regarding the defendants’ motion to dismiss under Minnesota’s Anti-SLAPP Act, which aims to prevent Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation or those intended to censor or intimidate members of the public from filing suits.
As of late Monday afternoon, Darrah had not yet issued a ruling on that motion.
Duffy represented Prenda Law in the now-transferred Southern District suit and represents himself in the pending Northern District suit.
Chicago attorney Erin Kathryn Russell and Massachusetts attorney Jason Sweet represent Godfread and Cooper.