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Media Alerts - Beyond Systems v. Kraft Foods, Inc. -- Fourth Circuit
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April 8, 2015
  Beyond Systems v. Kraft Foods, Inc. -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: Intentional Exposure to Spam E-Mail Does Not Give Right to Sue

Areas of Law: Internet, Tort, Volenti Non Fit Injuria

Issues Presented: (1) Whether Beyond Systems was an internet service provider, and thus had standing to sue under the California and Maryland anti-spam legislation; (2) whether Beyond Systems was a "bona fide" internet service provider, or rather had invited its own purported injury and thus could not recover for it.

Brief Summary: Beyond Systems, Inc. is a Maryland corporation that provides email and internet service access to a limited number of customers. In 2008, it sued Kraft Foods, Inc. in Maryland, under California's and Maryland's anti-spam statutes based upon several hundred e-mails which it alleged were unlawful spam. After granting partial summary judgment to Kraft Foods based on a number of e-mails that were the subject of prior litigation, the district held that Beyond Systems was an internet service provider and had standing to sue, but that it was barred from recovery under the common law doctrine of volenti non fit injuria ("to a willing person it is not a wrong").

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed that Beyond Systems' had standing to sue as an internet service provider. The Fourth Circuit then considered whether the company's history of litigation activities and litigation strategy precluded it from recovery. As both the Maryland and California anti-spam statutes sounded in tort, the court looked to common law tort principles as part of the causes of action these statutes create. It is a general maxim of tort law that "no wrong is done to one who consents." Thus, one who invites injury is barred from later recovering for the injurious conduct or the harm resulting from it.

Here, the Fourth Circuit held that Beyond Systems had developed hidden web pages and embedded e-mail addresses solely for the purpose of attracting spam e-mail. It also increased its server storage capacity to archive large volumes of spam messages, and retained them specifically to provide grounds for litigation. Indeed, the court found that in recent years, spam-trap-based litigation accounted for 90% of Beyond Systems' income. The court found the evidence was "overwhelming" that Beyond Systems had consented to the harm by collecting large amounts of spam for the specific purpose of suing the sender, and thus, was barred from recovering under the Maryland and California anti-spam statutes.

To read the full text of this opinion, please click here.

Panel: Judges Niemeyer, Wynn, and Thacker

Argument Date: 10/29/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/04/15

Docket Number: No. 13-2137

Decided: Affirmed by published opinion.

Case Alert Author: Megan Raker, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: Richard Kennon Willard, STEPTOE & JOHNSON LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Darrell J. Graham, ROESER BUCHEIT & GRAHAM LLC, Chicago, Illinois; Ari Nicholas Rothman, VENABLE LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Stephen H. Ring, LAW OFFICES OF STEPHEN H. RING, P.C., Gaithersburg, Maryland; Michael S. Rothman, LAW OFFICE OF MICHAEL S. ROTHMAN, Rockville, Maryland; Jill C. Maguire, Benjamin B. Watson, STEPTOE & JOHNSON LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. John K. Roche, PERKINS COIE LLP, Washington, D.C.; John E. Bucheit, ROESER BUCHEIT & GRAHAM LLC, Chicago, Illinois, for Appellees Kraft Foods, Incorporated, Vict. Th. Engwall & Co., and Kraft Foods Global, Incorporated. J. Douglas Baldridge, Lisa Jose Fales, VENABLE LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellee Connexus Corporation.

Author of Opinion: Judge Wynn

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/08/2015 08:15 PM     4th Circuit  

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