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Acteon, Inc. v. Vista Dental Products

May 3, 2006

ACTEON, INC. D/B/A SATELEC, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VISTA DENTAL PRODUCTS, GARY JAMES POND, AND TONY MARTELL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

This is a trademark infringement suit against Defendant Vista Dental Products*fn1 ("Vista"), its President, Defendant Gary James Pond, and its Vice President, Defendant Tony Martell (Pond and Martell collectively, the "individual Defendants"). The individual Defendants move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) and failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).

I.

A.

Plaintiff, Acteon, Inc., doing business as "Satelec," manufactures dental instruments and tools. Vista distributes dental equipment. In December, 1999, Satelec and Vista entered into a three-page "Supply Agreement" wherein Vista agreed to purchase "Piezo Electric Scalers and related accessories" from Satelec for a three year term ending December 31, 2002. (Compl. Ex. A)

Satelec alleges that after the parties entered into the Supply Agreement, Vista began publishing various advertisements using Satelec's "ad copy" and images of Satelec's products.*fn2

Vista also allegedly continued to "copy, market, manufacture and distribute" Piezo Electric Scaler accessories after the Supply Agreement's term expired "without Satelec's authorization or consent, utilizing Satelec's distinctive and proprietary name designations." Satelec's theory of its case is that Vista entered into the Supply Agreement to gain access to proprietary information in order to exploit it by selling "inexpensive and inferior versions and copies" of Satelec products.

The Complaint makes very few factual allegations specific to the individual Defendants, but generally asserts that "[t]he individual Defendants Pond and Martell, exercising influence and control over the corporate Defendant Vista, were directly involved in directing Vista to take such actions complained of, and themselves contributed to the infringement by taking an active part and providing the plans and decisions which effected Vista's actions." (Compl. ¶ 22)

The Complaint asserts against all three Defendants claims of trademark infringement, trade dress infringement, and false designation of origin under the Lanham Act; unfair competition under New Jersey statutory law and common law; and unjust enrichment. Satelec seeks punitive damages and an injunction restraining Defendants from infringing Satelec's trademark and trade dress rights and unfairly competing with Satelec.*fn3

Defendants Pond and Martell move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, contending that any alleged actions they took, and thereby any contacts they had with New Jersey, were in their capacity as corporate officers of Vista and not as individuals.*fn4 They also move to dismiss for failure to state a claim, asserting that they cannot be held personally liable for the claims asserted in the Complaint.

B.

Satelec is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. It also has an office Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Vista Dental is a Wisconsin corporation with its principal place of business in Racine, Wisconsin. While it is unclear where the individual Defendants reside, the Complaint alleges that their principal place of business is Racine, Wisconsin. Defendants Pond and Martell state that they do not reside in, regularly conduct or solicit business in, or own any real estate in New Jersey. (Pond 9/21/05 Decl. at ¶¶ 2-6; Martell 9/21/05 Decl. at ¶¶ 2-6)*fn5 They further state that they have never "personally engaged Satelec in any business relationship," "personally advertised any of Vista's products in New Jersey," or "personally placed into commerce any product that displays the purported designations or trade dress at the center of this dispute." (Pond 9/21/05 Decl. at ¶¶ 10-12; Martell 9/21/05 Decl. at ¶¶ 10-12) (emphasis added) Rather, Defendants Pond and Martell state that "in all actions that may in any way relate to this lawsuit" they have "acted within the scope of [their] authority" as Vista officers. (Pond 9/21/05 Decl. at ¶ 8; Martell 9/21/05 Decl. at ¶ 8) Accordingly, Defendants assert that "specific jurisdiction does not attach because all of Pond and Martell's contacts with New Jersey were on behalf of Vista, not themselves." (Defs' Br. at 6)

In their capacities as Vista officers, Pond and Martell state, "I helped negotiate and finalize the Supply Agreement entered between Satelec and Vista from which this dispute arises;" (Pond 11/10/05 Decl. ¶ 2; Martell 11/10/05 Decl. ¶ 2) "I also visited New Jersey on behalf of Vista Dental Products;" (Pond 11/10/05 Decl. ¶ 3; Martell 11/10/05 Decl. ¶ 3) "During the course of the Supply Agreement, Vista featured its products in catalogs and advertisements, some of which reached citizens of New Jersey. All such ...


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