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Baseball Artist’s Widow Sues Web Designer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - The widow of Mike Schacht, a baseball-loving author and painter who has several artworks in baseball's Hall of Fame, claims a website designer for her late husband's works and foundation hijacked the sites after she fought off an attempt to extort money from her.

Linda Schacht sues Bruce Caruthers, his business partner Brooke Yoole and DreamFire Enterprises in Federal Court, alleging cybersquatting, libel, fraud, outrage, embezzlement, interference and libel.

Schacht says that ever since she questioned the accuracy and her responsibility to pay a $26,383 invoice Caruthers sent her in April, after years of no communication, her late-husband's website has stated: " shut down for non-payment by Linda Schacht of $26,382.95." The notice remained on the site this morning (Tuesday).

Schacht says a friend introduced her and her husband to Caruthers in 2000, and he offered to design websites to showcase and market Mike Schacht's works and The Mike Schacht Foundation.

"In exchange for payment by Mr. Schacht and Mrs. Schacht, Mr. Caruthers, doing business as DreamFire Enterprises, agreed to purchase certain internet domains for the Schachts in and around 2000. These domains included www.mikeschacht.comand www.mikeschachtfoundation.comamong several others," according to the complaint.

It adds: "There was no written contract for any services to be provided by DreamFire at any time. Certainly, the Mike Schacht Internet Domains and Websites were not pledged or assigned to Mr. Caruthers or DreamFire as security or collateral for any obligations, should they have existed or arise."

Mike Schacht died in 2001.

After his death, Linda Schacht says, "Defendants, through DreamFire, continued to host the Websites. However, no invoices were ever sent to the Schachts, though monies were paid informally by Mrs. Schacht at various times and in various amounts when periodically requested by Mr. Caruthers."

It had been more than 4 years since Schacht had heard from Caruthers, she says, when she received an email out of the blue.

"This e-mail was sent to her in Nashville and falsely accused her of evading communications and presented her with a purported 'Final Notice Invoice' of nearly $27,000 for alleged services relating to the Websites and Mike Schacht Internet Domains for the preceding 9 years.

"Mrs. Schacht never received any invoices whatsoever from Mr. Caruthers or DreamFire until the Demand and Invoice.

"Mrs. Schacht never agreed to any charges, much less the charges alleged in the Invoice," she says.

Schacht says that none of her contact information had changed since Caruthers had last contacted her, in January 2007, but Caruthers never contacted her.

She adds: "In an additional effort to extort payment of this unjust sum from Mrs. Schacht, Mr. Caruthers and DreamFire, without authorization and unbeknownst to Mrs. Schacht, removed the authorized content from the Websites in and around June or July 2011 and replaced all of it with the message ' shut down for non-payment by Linda Schacht of $26,382.95.'"

Schacht says her attorney sent Caruthers two cease and desist letters to restore the website and remove the message but he refused, claiming that he, not the Schachts, owns the domains.

"Despite the fact that he was to purchase the Mike Schacht Internet Domains and register them for the Schachts, and despite the fact that he has no legal interest in the Schacht artwork or goodwill associated with the Mike Schacht Trademark, Mr. Caruthers obviously purchased them for his own account and is hijacking them for no other purpose than to extort money from Mrs. Schacht and otherwise profit unfairly," the complaint states.

Even if Schacht does owe Caruthers for his services, she says, he is charging her too much.

"For instance, Mr. Caruther's DreamFire Invoice sent to Mrs. Schacht in Nashville claims charges for hosting of the Mike Schacht Gallery and Foundation Websites as $1,200 each annually, or $100 each monthly. However, DreamFire's highest published charge for hosting of basic websites, such as the Websites at issue, is only $384 per year or $32 per month."

The complaint adds: "Likewise, despite the fact that Mr. Caruthers claims he owns and has registered the Mike Schacht Internet Domains in his name, his Invoice includes charges to Mrs. Schacht of $35 each per year for such registration, plus additional $60 charges otherwise relating to the Mike Schacht Internet Domains." Linda Schacht says she has had to cancel opportunities to speak on behalf of her late husband because she was afraid people would look up the sites Caruthers has taken over and see the message.

She seeks punitive damages for cybersquatting, declaratory judgment, violation of Tennessee common law and statutory right of publicity, consumer protection violations, libel, invasion of privacy, outrageous conduct, fraud, conversion, intentional interference with existing and prospective business relationships and partnership liability.

Linda Schacht is represented by Philip Robertson and Stephen Zralek with Bone McAllester Norton.

Apart from his baseball paintings, Mike Schacht was also the publisher and editor of "Fan," a literary and art quarterly magazine and a teacher at the New School for Social Research. He taught "The History of Baseball in America" and "The Mystique of Baseball," according to his obituary in The New York Times.

Linda Schacht is executive director of the Nelson & Sue Andrews Institute for Civil Leadership at Lipscomb University, a former senior fellow of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and has held appointments with the White House Press Office, the U.S. Senate Majority Leader and USA Today, according to her complaint.

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