Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Farm Fresh Direct by a Cut Above, LLC v. Downey (Maryland U.S.D.C.)

Filed: October 26, 2017

Opinion by: Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander


Under Maryland law, the liability protections afforded to limited liability company (“LLC”) members with respect to obligations of an LLC did not support dismissal of claims that an individual engaged in unfair competition and deceptive trade practices by forming and participating in an LLC, where the plaintiff alleged conduct supporting direct claims against the individual.


A Maryland LLC, Farm Fresh Direct by a Cut Above LLC (“Plaintiff”), brought suit against multiple defendants, including another Maryland LLC, Farm Fresh Direct Home Food Services, LLC (“Defendant LLC”), and an individual who allegedly filed Defendant LLC’s Articles of Organization with the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation (“Defendant Individual” and together with Defendant LLC, the “Defendants”), alleging that the Defendants engaged in unfair competition in violation of both Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), and Maryland common law, by establishing and engaging in a competing business under a name which was confusingly similar to the name of the Plaintiff.  The Defendant Individual moved, pro se, to dismiss the action.  Despite construing the motion liberally in favor of the Defendant Individual, the district court denied the motion, holding that the Plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to satisfy the pleading requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).    


The district court analyzed as a threshold issue whether the Defendant Individual was subject to suit in light of the Defendant LLC’s status as a Maryland LLC.  The district court’s analysis begins with a review of Maryland and Fourth Circuit law regarding the corporate shield and the corresponding LLC shield.  The court then notes that, notwithstanding the LLC shield, which generally protects LLC members from personal liability for obligations of the LLC, the LLC shield does not protect LLC members from direct liability for that member’s own actions.  Because Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant Individual formed the Defendant LLC and acted as its resident agent, the district court held that Plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to plead direct claims against the Defendant Individual.  Further, because Plaintiff alleged that the name of the Defendant LLC was confusingly similar to the name of the Plaintiff and that the Defendant LLC engaged in substantially the same business as the Plaintiff, the district court held that Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to plead claims of unfair competition and deceptive trade practices under Maryland and Federal law.  Accordingly, the district court denied Defendant Individual’s motion to dismiss.

The full opinion is available in PDF.

Opinions and conclusions in this post are solely those of the author unless otherwise indicated. The information contained in this blog is general in nature and is not offered and cannot be considered as legal advice for any particular situation. The author has provided the links referenced above for information purposes only and by doing so, does not adopt or incorporate the contents. Any federal tax advice provided in this communication is not intended or written by the author to be used, and cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding penalties which may be imposed on the recipient by the IRS. Please contact the author if you would like to receive written advice in a format which complies with IRS rules and may be relied upon to avoid penalties.

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