Virginia Court Denies Judgment on the Pleadings in Domain Name Dispute

As noted previously on this blog, the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (“ACPA”) permits litigation to be filed against an infringing domain name itself, not just against the owner of the domain name. Which entity should file responsive pleadings in such a case, the domain name or its owner? In Sauikit LLC v., the Eastern District of Virginia opined that form should not prevail over substance.

Saurikit brought an action against the domain name alleging violations of the ACPA. Defendant’s Answer stated that Cykon Technology (“Cykon”) owned the domain name, but the defendant’s attorney signed the answer “Counsel for” instead of “Counsel for Cykon.” Saurikit moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that there was no answer on file by a claimant since the property rather than the owner of the property filed the Answer.

A successful judgment on the pleadings requires the moving party to demonstrate that no issues of material fact exist and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In deciding a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, courts view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.

Saurikit relied on Caesars World, Inc. v., in which the court found that the Answer should have been filed on behalf of the claimant seeking to assert an interest in the domain name rather than on behalf of the domain name itself. In www.jpgCaesars World, the defendant was refusing to identify the sponsor of the litigation and was not participating in discovery. The court was concerned about its ability to determine the interests of persons relative to the domain name and therefore rejected the Answer, reasoning that as an inanimate object, the domain name could not hire attorneys to file an answer.

The court in Saurikit distinguished Caesars World. Here, Cykon had argued its ownership interest in the domain name and had engaged Saurikit in discovery and settlement negotiations. The face of the pleadings made clear that Cykon was the owner of the domain name and was a claimant in the case. Additionally, earlier pleadings in the case noted that Cykon was owner of the domain name and had engaged counsel to represent its interests in the matter. In previous motions, the court had recognized Cykon as the claimant in the case. For these reasons, the court found Cykon’s answer sufficient and denied Saurikit’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.

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