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Johndrow Vineyards, LLC v. Wine Marketing Group, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 1, 2019

JOHNDROW VINEYARDS, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
WINE MARKETING GROUP, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER AND PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S ADMINISTRATIVE MOTION TO FILE UNDER SEAL

          CHARLES R. BREYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendant and Counterclaimant Wine Marketing Group, LLC, also known as Wines ‘Til Sold Out (“WTSO”) has moved for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) and a preliminary injunction to enjoin Plaintiff and Counter-Defendant Johndrow Vineyards, LLC (“Plaintiff”) “from communicating, by any means, to third-parties regarding or related to WTSO (including its principals, employees, agents), WTSO's business practices, or any facts or matters related the transaction and dispute presently before this Court.” Mot. for TRO and Prelim. Inj. (Dkt. 31). Defendant also filed a Motion to File Documents Under Seal in Support of its Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction (Dkt. 32). With the leave of the Court, Scheduling Order (Dkt. 33), Plaintiff has opposed both motions (Dkts. 35, 36). The Court now DENIES both motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a dispute between a winemaker, Plaintiff, and IWLC, a wine distributor, and WTSO, a “flash sale site” which “offers wine to retail customers at discount prices.” Compl. ¶¶ 8, 10. The Complaint alleges that Defendants contracted to purchase over 10, 000 bottles of wine from Plaintiff, but that Defendants failed to pay for some of that wine. Id. ¶ 11-19. Plaintiffs bring claims for breach of contract and conversion. Id. ¶¶ 20-32.

         In the instant motions, WTSO alleges that, since this action has been filed, Plaintiff sent emails to other people working in the wine business “disparaging WTSO with the intent of harming WTSO's business reputation and/or harming its business relations with vendor.” Mem. of Points and Authorities in Support of Mot. for TRO and Prelim. Inj. At 3 (Dkt. 31-1). These emails, Plaintiff now contends, were false and defamatory and amount to tortious interference with WTSO's relationship with vendors that Plaintiff contacted. Id. at 5. WTSO thus seeks an order enjoining Plaintiff or its “servants, employees and attorneys and all those in active concert or participation with [WTSO]” from “communicating, by any means, to third-parties regarding or related to WTSO (including its principals, employees, agents), WTSO's business practices, or any facts or matters related the transaction and dispute presently before this court.” Mot. for a TRO and Prelim. Inj. Prop. Order (Dkt. 31-6).

         II. MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER AND PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

         “A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Winter v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). The same standard applies to motions for TROs. Stuhlbarg Int'l Sales Co. v. John D. Brush & Co., 240 F.3d 832, 839 n.7 (9th Cir. 2001).

         When the injunction sought is, as here, an injunction against certain types of speech, see Mot. for a TRO and Prelim. Inj. Prop. Order, the Ninth Circuit has further cautioned that “an injunction issued ‘before an adequate determination that it is unprotected by the First Amendment' presents the ‘special vice of a prior restraint.'” Overstreet v. United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., Local Union No. 1506, 409 F.3d 1199, 1218 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Pittsburgh Press Co. v. Pittsburgh Comm'n on Human Relations, 413 U.S. 376, 390 (1973)). Further, a “‘heavy presumption' exists against finding such prior restraints constitutionally permissible.” Id. (citing Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan, 372 U.S. 58, 70 (1961)).

         WTSO fails on the first prong of the Winter test. WTSO alleges that the emails that Plaintiff sent to the other wine merchants “created interference” between WTSO and the other wine merchants with which it works because, in WTSO's view, those emails “included false factual assertions that WTSO engages in improper or fraudulent business practices, and insinuating/recommending that the recipients of the e-mail avoid doing business with WTSO.” Mem. of Points and Authorities at 5. This, WTSO states, cause WTSO “irreparable harm” because, in full:

Johndrow's perfidious e-mail campaign was a concerted effort to convince or dissuade wineries and distributors from conducting business with WTSO. As a wine marketing company, WTSO's business is founded on its relations with the vendors that Johndrow targeted with its emails. Johndrow is sending e-mails to WTSO-critical vendors, in a calculated, unwarranted, and improper effort to paralyze WTSO's ability to conduct business.

Id. at 7.

         Even taking on face that this conclusory allegation is sufficient as to Plaintiff's motivations, Plaintiff has failed to show that it will suffer irreparable harm that would necessitate a TRO. See Winter, 555 U.S. at 20. WTSO merely asserts, without citation to any record evidence, that Plaintiff was attempting to injure WTSO's business interests. See Mem. of Points and Authorities at 7. Even if true-and the Court takes no view on Plaintiff's intent-that is a far cry from demonstrating that WTSO actually suffered any injury, let alone an irreparable one. Especially given the “heavy presumption” against prior restraints on speech, see Sullivan, 372 U.S. at 70, WTSO's unsupported statement that it suffered an irreparable injury is wholly inadequate to satisfy the first prong of Winter, 555 U.S. at 20.

         Because WTSO has failed to show that it will suffer irreparable harm, the Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction is DENIED.

         III. MOTION TO FILE ...


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