Mail-Order Bride Service Loses Defamation Case
(CN) - A website that offers mail-order brides from Russia and the Ukraine failed to show that its competitor put out the stories labeling it a scam, a federal judge ruled.
Both Anastasia International and EM Online dba Elena's Models operate fee-based international dating services for American men looking to meet women in Russia and the Ukraine. Their websites are anastasiadate.com and elanasmodels.com, respectively.
Based in Kentucky with offices in New York, Anastasia claimed in a May 2013 lawsuit that it was being maligned online at Anastasiadatefraud.com. The site allegedly featured stories purportedly written by the women who worked for Anastasia International in which they say they were paid employees hired to correspond with men and then "break their hearts."
In its second amended complaint, Anastasia claimed that Australia-based Elena's Models hired Juha Natunen to create a website called anastasiadatefraud.com that labeled Anastasia's service as a scam. Natunen's site allegedly urged visitors to choose elenasmodels.com over anastasiadate.com.
Anastasia claimed Elena's Models knew the stories on anastasiadatefraud.com were untrue, but had them written specifically to hurt Anastasia's business while promoting its own service.
It also claimed Elena's Models' other website, ruadventures.com, infringed on its copyrighted logo to pilfer potential customers.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan tossed the claims against Elena's Models earlier this month, finding that Anastasia failed to demonstrate an agency relationship between Natunen and Elena's Models.
"Anastasia has utterly failed to allege facts to show that Natunen is an agent of EM Online or that there exists any connection between the two defendants," Forrest wrote. "Because such an inference would be wholly implausible, the court dismisses the complaint."
Without evidence that the Finland-dwelling Natunen acted at the direction of Elena's Models, Anastasia has no basis to allege false advertising and trademark infringement, according to the ruling.
"Anastasia's strongest factual claim bolstering its argument is that anastasiadatefraud.com contained a link to elenasmodels.com that was removed shortly after EM Online received the complaint," the judge noted. "Such an allegation of temporal proximity is not enough to show any connection or communication whatsoever, let alone an agency relationship, between Natunen and EM Online."
Without more detail on the alleged connection between the defendants, "it is just as plausible that Natunen created this website himself as that he created the website pursuant to an agency relationship with EM Online," Forrest added.
Elena's Models can recover attorneys' fees because Anastasia kept it as a defendant without proof in three iterations of the complaint, the judge found.
In fact, Anastasia's refusal to drop its direct competitor from the action smacks of a "competitive ploy," the judge noted, citing the ruling in Mennen Co. v. Gillette Co.
Forrest had noted that Natunen would likely move for summary judgment or dismissal based on lack of personal jurisdiction, since he lives in Finland.
Anastasia told the court on Oct. 14 that it was voluntarily discontinuing the claims against Natunen.
Forrest terminated the action the next day. Anastasia has until Oct. 26 to respond to the demand for attorneys' fees that Elena filed Friday.
Richard Yeskoo, an attorney with Yeskoo Hogan & Tamlyn representing Anastasia, did not return a request for comment left after business hours.
Natunen has also not returned an email seeking comment.