Prenda Law, the most notorious porn-copyright troll firm haunting American courts, continues its downward spiral. On October 30, 2013, Prenda was sanctioned for vexatious litigation under 28 U.S.C. § 1927, based on yet another motion by Booth Sweet LLP on behalf of another unfairly maligned client. In Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Smith, District Judge Murphy of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois granted our motion to sanction the plaintiff’s lawyers, agreeing that Prenda “raised baseless claims despite knowledge those claims were frivolous and pressed for a meritless ‘emergency’ discovery hearing.” Our client Anthony Smith will recover approximately $70,000 spent defending himself, sanctions that must be personally paid by Prenda attorneys John Steele, Paul Duffy, and Paul Hansmeier.
Prenda had accused Mr. Smith of a barrage of wrongful acts associated with illegal online file-sharing: violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, conversion, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and vast civil conspiracies between Smith, the Internet service providers AT&T and Comcast, and more than 6,600 alleged co-conspirators. Mr. Smith consistently maintained his innocence of all claims, and we had called the court’s attention to a variety of Prenda’s procedural irregularities, including:
- Prenda had filed the complaint in state court, though the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is federal law, and though its other claims were preempted by the Copyright Act and its exclusive federal jurisdiction.
- Prenda accused Smith of illegally hacking into Lightspeed Media’s pornographic websites based only on his computer’s IP address, without providing any factual support or authentication of its claim.
- Prenda demanded copyright law remedies, though it had not directly alleged copyright infringement.
- Infamously, when Prenda’s process server handed the federal complaint and summons to Mr. Smith, he also told Mr. Smith to contact a certain John Steele, stating Steele was a lawyer with no interest in the case who could help settle it. Mr. Steele was in fact Plaintiff’s lead counsel, so this irregularity raised a few eyebrows. (As did later charges that the process server was also a cocaine dealer, including to a judge who died from an overdose.)
- Prenda repeatedly sought pre-trial discovery that would have helped it demand settlement payoffs from thousands of alleged “co-conspirators.” The Illinois Supreme Court denied the discovery; after the case was removed to federal court, Prenda called for an “emergency” hearing, where Prenda was denied again by District Judge Murphy; Prenda kept trying, but was again denied at the pre-trial scheduling conference.
- Prenda made its routine voluntary dismissal of all claims while motions to dismiss by Mr. Smith and the ISPs were still pending.
These are far from the first sanctions facing Prenda’s lawyers personally, as has been widely detailed elsewhere. This is the second attorney’s fees order our firm has obtained against Prenda in as many weeks. Last week, in Massachusetts, District Judge Tauro granted our motion for more than $64,000 in attorney’s fees in a default judgment in AF Holdings v. Chowdhury. We have two other motions for attorney’s fees pending against Prenda: another default judgment in Connecticut in AF Holdings v. Olivas, and in Guava, LLC v. John Doe in Massachusetts (both abandoned by Prenda’s local counsel, who realized he’d face sanctions and RICO charges if he continued to work for Prenda).
Prenda’s Paul Duffy had opposed our motion for fees, describing the recoupment of costs Mr. Smith incurred defending baseless claims as a “windfall,” and arguing that “Attorneys Sweet and Booth routinely file baseless motions for attorney’s fees in hopes they will eventually get lucky and a court will award them attorney’s fees requests—$70,000, in this case.” As we noted in our reply, each page of Duffy’s opposition presented at least one false statement as fact. In his succinct order, District Judge Murphy set matters straight: “This litigation smacked of bullying pretense.” Judge Murphy will retire and return to private practice on December 1 after fifteen years of service on the bench. He leaves behind many impressive marks, not least another nail in the Prenda Law coffin. Happy Halloween!