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South Florida Doctors Take Cybersquatting Dispute to the Federal Court of Appeals – Tartell v. South Florida Sinus and Allergy Center, Inc.

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 3.04.31 PMPatients tend to put doctors on pedestals, thinking that they are “above” the normal annoyances, squabbles, and pettiness that life throws at the rest of us. Unfortunately, this is not true. Doctors are fallible, and they do make mistakes. Often, however, they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge this reality. Even obvious cases of medical negligence sometimes take years to reach a settlement or trial.

Apparently, this reluctance to admit wrongdoing can also carry over into doctors’ business relationships with one another. In a recent case decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, two South Florida physicians – who once practiced together – aired their grievances in court, each apparently convinced that his partner, not he himself, was in the wrong in a dispute arising after they split their practices.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Tartell v. South Florida Sinus and Allergy Center, Inc., two doctors had jointly practiced medicine together for several years before splitting their practice in 2011. After the split, the defendant doctor registered several domain names that contained variations of the plaintiff doctor’s name. The plaintiff sued the defendant doctor, his incorporated practice, and another corporation that he owned, alleging that the defendant had engaged in cybersquatting, unfair competition, and other wrongful acts.

Although the defendant doctor canceled the registration for the domain names one day after the complaint was filed, the plaintiff doctor continued his lawsuit all the way to a trial before a federal judge. The district court found in the plaintiff doctor’s favor but awarded him only statutory damages, holding that his name had acquired secondary meaning but that he had not provided evidence of any actual damage from the defendant doctor’s alleged cybersquatting.

The Decision on Appeal

On appeal to the federal court of appeals, the court reversed and rendered judgment in favor of the defendant doctor and defendant corporations. According to the court, the district court had clearly erred in deciding the case in favor of the plaintiff doctor, given that he failed to present substantial evidence that his name had acquired secondary meaning in the minds of consumers.

Since the plaintiff had failed to prove that his service mark was “distinctive,” his claims for cybersquatting,  false designation of origin, and unfair competition failed. With regard to its overall impression of the parties and their dispute, the court stated, “As the district court aptly described, ‘this action continued all the way through [a four-day bench] trial because Dr. Mandel refused to take responsibility for his antics while Dr. Tartell sought a statutory windfall for a short-lived and largely pointless deceit.'”

To Speak to a Florida Business Dispute Attorney

Experienced legal counsel can help you navigate the division of a business and other associated disputes. Talk to the skilled Florida partnership dissolution attorneys at Stok Folk + Kon. Our hardworking attorneys can help you manage your case.

Contact us online or by calling (305) 935-4440 to schedule your consultation.

More blog posts:

Litigation Against Employees Forces Florida Safety Appliance Company to Disclose Financial Documents, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, May 5, 2015

Lack of Trial Transcript Dooms Appeal Challenging the Nature of Contract Between Warehouse Owner and Contractor, Florida Business Lawyers Blog, March 25, 2015