First sale doctrine not a defense to tortious interference and civil conspiracy claims

Merle Norman Cosmetics, Inc. v. Labarbera, No. 07-60811, 2007 WL 2254932 (S.D.Fla. August 03, 2007)

Cosmetics purveyor Merle Norman sued defendant Labarbera in a Florida federal court, alleging state law claims for tortious interference with contract, civil conspiracy, and deceptive and unfair trade practices. Merle Norman alleged that Labarbera worked in conjunction with an authorized Merle Norman studio owner to obtain cosmetics which she later resold on eBay.

Labarbera moved to dismiss under FRCP 12(b)(6), arguing that the “first sale doctrine” protected her right to resell products she had lawfully acquired in the stream of commerce. Merle Norman responded that the first sale doctrine should not apply, as the doctrine only protects defendants for claims of intellectual property infringement. In this case, Merle Norman argued, the defendant was not merely reselling the products, but was engaged in tortious conduct with the authorized studio owner.

The court agreed with Merle Norman and denied the motion to dismiss. Quoting Bulova Corp. v. Bulova Do Brasil Com. Rep. Imp. & Exp. Ltd., 144 F.Supp.2d 1329, 1331-1332 (S.D.Fla.2001), it observed that “[c]ourts have limited this doctrine to cases where there is no other conduct of infringement or where the defendant is not culpable for anything more than mere reselling of a product.” The court went on to observe that “the point at this early stage of this litigation is that the First Sale Doctrine has not been accepted as a complete defense to tortious interference and civil conspiracy claims.”

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