Paul Hansmeier Pops Up In Prenda Law Defamation Case, As Prenda Tries To Force It Back To State Court

from the twists-and-turns dept

Ah, the twists and turns of Prenda Law cases. While much of the focus has been on the big showdown in California, there are also the infamous defamation cases. As you may recall, three separate lawsuits were filed in state courts against Alan Cooper (John Steele's caretaker, who has accused Steele of identity fraud in signing his name to documents for various shell companies involved in Steele's copyright trolling operation), Paul Godfread, who is Cooper's lawyer, and a variety of anonymous internet bloggers and commenters. Two of the original lawsuits were filed in Illinois state court -- one with Prenda Law (the firm) as the plaintiff and another with Prenda's sole principal (or so they claim), Paul Duffy. Another was filed in Florida with John Steele as the plaintiff, though that one was quickly dropped by Steele himself (the rumor we've heard was that this was dropped after someone informed Steele of a fairly big procedural snafu concerning how defamation cases need to be filed in Florida).

As we noted, Cooper and Godfread quickly had the cases removed to federal court, which is a fairly common move. Defendants will often remove a case to federal court if they can, because generally speaking, federal courts have a lot more clear caselaw and precedent that the judges will follow, and (subjective statement here, but many agree with it) federal judges tend to just be better informed about the law and are somewhat less prone to wacky rulings. One common way to remove a case from state to federal court is by claiming "diversity," which is when the plaintiffs and defendants are in different states. That seemed like a no-brainer in this case, seeing as Cooper and Godfread are based in Minnesota, while Duffy and Prenda are in Illinois.

However, the latest filing in the case (as noticed by Raul, filed by Paul Duffy (yes, representing his own firm) claims that the case should be sent back to the state court. Here's where it gets tricky. The original complaint in the Prenda Law case, was filed on February 12th. However, on February 21st, Hansmeier notes that an amended complaint was filed, which also named Paul Hansmeier's own firm, Alpha Law Firm, as a plaintiff. While that complaint incorrectly claimed that Alpha Law Firm was organized under the laws of the State of Illinois it seems likely that was a sloppy copy-and-paste error in filing the amended complaint. Either way, the amended complaint correctly notes that Alpha Law Firm's principal place of business was in Minnesota.

This, Duffy argues, kills the diversity claim and means that the federal court has no jurisdiction. I am, of course, not a lawyer, and my expertise in the nuances of federal court jurisdiction is limited, but from my understanding of these things, this is a case where Duffy may be legally correct, though there's all sorts of sleaziness associated with this. The general rules for removing to federal court under diversity includes that no plaintiffs live/work in the same state as any defendants. If Alpha Law is in the same state as Cooper and Godfread (as they are), they can argue that there is no diversity, and a federal court very likely could agree. Of course, it's not difficult to speculate that some of the Team Prenda folks realized this after the initial filing, which is what inspired the decision to suddenly add Alpha as a plaintiff, solely for the point of killing the diversity claim. There are situations in which courts will claim that some parties have been added to a lawsuit as "nominally" or "fraudulently joined" defendants, solely for the purpose of avoiding a diversity claim. Perhaps Cooper and Godfread's lawyer can make that claim, but it's a crapshoot whether or not the court will buy it.

Of course, aiding the claim that this is a bogus addition solely to block a diversity claim is the fact that it is not explained anywhere in the amended filing, why Alpha Law was added as a plaintiff to the lawsuit. None of the statements quoted in the filing which the plaintiffs claim to be defamatory actually refer to Alpha Law. Hell, none of them even refer to Paul Hansmeier. The only Hansmeier mentioned is Peter, Paul's brother. Nearly all of the statements mention Prenda, not Alpha. Reading the amended complaint, it's not at all clear what Alpha Law is even complaining about, since the comments do not reference it.

There are other oddities here as well. The lawyer representing Cooper and Godfread, Erin Russell, never acknowledges Alpha as a plaintiff in any of her filings. Duffy's filing argues that this is a purposeful omission to hide this fact for the sake of getting diversity, and also claims that he emailed Russell the day her original Notice of Removal was filed to point her to the amended complaint. If this is true, then that could be seen to reflect poorly on Russell. Even if there are questionable motives behind adding Alpha, if the firm were legitimately added, Russell should have acknowledged that. That said, given how many times we've seen the crew of folks around Prenda make statements that were less than totally forthcoming about litigation they were involved in, I'll reserve judgment until we see more details and the inevitable reply from Russell.

Duffy even seeks legal fees in response to this, though that seems like a huge long shot.

It will be interesting to see what happens here, but there is a very real possibility that the judge might send this back to the state court for lack of diversity. Of course, while that's not ideal, it's hardly the end of the world. The case itself seems so weak, and there is so much other information now available concerning Prenda's actions, that I can't see the original case getting very far, even if it is stuck in a state court in Southern Illinois. On that note, Russell has already been trying to move the federal case from Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois arguing (quite reasonably) that no one involved in the case is from Southern Illinois at all, but Prenda/Duffy are based in Northern Illinois). It does make you wonder why the case was filed in st. Clair County in the first place -- other than that was also the state court that Prenda has used for some of its lawsuits. Still, this move reeks of playing legal games, for which Prenda is quite famous. It sometimes seems like there isn't a loophole they're unfamiliar with. In the long run, all this gamemanship isn't going to help them in the bigger cases concerning their conduct.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    anonymouse, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 3:56am


    I am surprised that they have not stopped all court cases completely so that they can give all their attention to the one case that could see them in serious trouble and if referred to a criminal court could see them all in jail and disbarred.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Raul, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 4:27am

    Erin Russell has an excellent track record thwarting Prenda's various schemes. No doubt she has a WMD for Prenda and Alpha which they have just given the launch code.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 4:53am

    Re: Preda

    I think their designated fall guy refused to play ball, and so they have to discredit him.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    RyanNerd (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 4:59am

    Straining at gnats and swallowing camels

    Prenda seems to be in the position of trying every lawyerist scumbaggery they can to weasel out of taking responsibility for their criminal actions.

    Lets hope they are all imprisoned, become someone's bitch are are disbarred.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 6:00am

    Re: Straining at gnats and swallowing camels

    Maybe they will claim innocent by reason of insanity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 7:12am

    Regardless I still believe that the best way to handle lying scum-bags like this is to have some one like Johnie McBrown or Henry Fonda give them a high noon deadline to voluntary get out of town or to involuntary have a permanent un-ceremonial quick pertinent dispatch to the gully behind boot hill with an excellent view of the bottom side of sage bush.

    How did do-gooders reduce the US to the level of slime and deceit where such action is the elite normal morality?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 7:23am


    Yes! We should murder them! Go Techdirt Minions!!



    [Where does Mike find you guys?]

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Trails (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 7:34am

    How to drive a programmer nuts...

    ... Northern Illinois arguing (quite reasonably) that ... Northern Illinois).

    You're killing me!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 7:42am

    Re: Re:

    Clearly, everyone who comments on Mike's articles represents his opinions perfectly.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    lax-goalie, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 7:48am

    John Does

    To make this work, wouldn't they need to stipulate that all of the John Does reside in Minnesota, and only in Minnesota?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    madasahatter (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 7:52am

    One suits against the website, if I remember correctly Prenda wanted all the visiting IP addresses. My guess is the visitors probably mostly US (likely all 50 states) and would include a few international visitors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 8:01am

    Re: Re: Re:

    It certainly a reflection on Mike.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 8:31am

    How could they possibly win a defamation suit unless they can prove either 1) there is another Alan Cooper or 2) Alan Cooper is the Alan Cooper AND he willfully participated?

    Assuming they could prove that, you'd think they would have done it in front of Judge Wright?

    So what could they possibly do here to win? Why even fight this fight?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 8:36am

    Re: How to drive a programmer nuts...

    I got a compile error reading this also.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 9:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So your comment is also a reflection on Mike?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Lurker Keith, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 2:32pm

    To all those questioning why Prenda didn't pull out...

    IIRC, Prenda can't back out of the 2 remaining cases, because answers have already been filed (Alan's lawyer seems to work fast).

    Once an answer has been filed, I recall reading (probably here or on Popehat) that in order to dismiss the case, both sides have to agree to it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    sk43999, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 5:06pm

    Legal ramblings

    My understanding (sure to be wrong) is that as long as a Federal Court has jurisdiction over a case at SOME point in the proceedings, then it retains jurisdiction throughout. It MAY remand a case once the issues giving it jurisdiction are resolved, but that is discretionary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Laroquod (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 7:20pm

    Neverending Soap Opera

    Tune in again tomorrow on 'Days of Our Lawyers' for the trials and tribulations of the corrupt 'Prenda' crime family... you can't keep track of the characters anymore, but who cares? Because any of them could be replaced by another actor at any time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 9:02pm


    Websites (plural).
    All IPs that ever connected to the sites, not just commented.
    All IPs for periods of time when the sites in question had not formed (IIRC).
    All IPs for periods of time before Prenda was formed.

    Chicken or the egg, how can something that does not yet exist be defamed?
    Of course they want these IP addresses to try and link people they sent settlement demands to previously to apply more pressure, and gain access to statements where a Doe might have given away to much information making it easier to identify them.

    They paint these websites in Federal (and State) filings as being anti-copyright, where more correctly they are anti-copyright troll. There are the occasional debates about the problems in copyright and how if the poster was king of the world they would change it. There are some posters who want to abolish it, but the primary purpose isn't decrying copyright, it is focused on dissecting how the law is being abused against unprepared citizens who might only be the name on an account and have nothing to do with alleged "crime".

    But then I appear in the exhibits submitted and am misquoted in the filing itself, so obviously I'm anti-copyright rather than my stated purpose of I just hate bullies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 9:06pm


    They hoped to silence very loud critics.
    To instill fear and terror into Does who might come to the websites seeking information. Google searches for case numbers, movie titles, lawyers, firms all end up with highly placed hits for the 2 websites.
    Being able to call a Doe and say we saw you goto that anti-copyright website and this helps prove you must be guilty in a case where the Doe things $150K is at stake where the burden of proof is more likely than not... would you roll those dice?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 9:07pm

    Re: To all those questioning why Prenda didn't pull out...

    Which is why Steele was able to drop his after it was removed to the Federal Courts.

    The other 2 cases went a bit slower, and IIRC they were hoping to merge both of them into 1 case.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 9:08pm

    Re: Neverending Soap Opera

    careful they'll subpoena your IP address for saying naughty things about them... I know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 6:20am


    They can't stop fighting the fight now, an action was taken by the defendants (counterclaims and countersuit), and now they can't withdraw the case. Their best bet is to get the case back to the state level and slug it out there where there chances are better for less damages. I don't think they can win at all since they plead the fifth elsewhere, and any admission or testimony would be bad so they are at least not trying to lose in federal court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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