A lawsuit by Real Living Inc. against one of its former top agents has temporarily suspended the use of several Web addresses that included the Real Living name and the names of its top executives.
The lawsuit, filed June 9 in Ohio’s Franklin County Common Pleas Court, alleges that David E. Barlow, who left Real Living in December 2004 to open a competing RE/MAX real estate brokerage in Columbus, Ohio, and his company have violated the federal “Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act” by registering and using domain names for several Web sites, among them: harleyroudajr.com, harleyroudasr.com, kairarouda.com, kairasturdivantrouda.com, and insiderealliving.com.
Harley E. Rouda Jr. is CEO and general counsel for Real Living, a large brokerage company based in Ohio, while Kaira Sturdevant Rouda is company COO, and Harley E. Rouda Sr. is chairman.
The case has since been moved to U.S. District Court in Columbus.
It’s not the first time Barlow has clashed with Real Living in court — there is a separate lawsuit pending between Barlow and Real Living that relates to compensation issues, with Barlow alleging that he wasn’t allowed to take his property listings with him when he left the company. That case is set for arbitration, Barlow said.
The latest lawsuit charges that the actions of Barlow and RE/MAX First Choice LLC infringe on the Real Living service mark and constitute defamation, deceptive trade practices and defamation.
Barlow, meanwhile, contends that he was exercising freedom of speech in using the Web sites to publish information about Real Living that he considers to be truthful.
The www.insiderealliving.com Web site was allegedly registered in February, according to the lawsuit. And in May, “virtually all of (Real Living’s) 700 real estate agents received an e-mail from someone using the pseudonym ‘Herbie R., Jr.’ Shortly afterwards, (Real Living) learned that the e-mail may have been sent to many other real estate agents throughout Central Ohio and that the information imbedded in those e-mails was also contained within a Web site, www.insiderealliving.com,” the lawsuit alleges.
An investigation of the e-mail concluded that the e-mail message “had been sent from the same computer that had previously sent e-mails from … Barlow’s company that attempted to recruit (Real Living) agents,” the lawsuit alleges. Another batch of e-mail messages allegedly were sent to Real Living agents in early June.
A judge granted a temporary restraining order last month that orders Barlow and RE/MAX First Choice to suspend the operation and access to the Web domains that are the subject of the lawsuit. Also, the order prevents Barlow and his company “from distributing, generating, utilizing, using and/or sending … any communications, correspondence, Web sites or e-mails” that use marks related to Real Living, which is also known as HER Inc., or that company’s slogans.
On Thursday, the court held a preliminary injunction hearing for the case, with testimony by Barlow and Kaira Rouda.
Barlow told Inman News that the Web sites, and particularly InsideRealLiving.com, were intended “to disseminate information about inside dealings of Real Living.” He said he took issue with statements used at the Real Living Web site and he concluded through his own research that several agents’ property listings – including his own property listings – were not displayed at the Real Living property-search site.
An archived version of the InsideRealLiving.com site, indexed by the Google search engine, states, “Harley Jr. and Kaira Sturdivant-Rouda are making the claim ‘See all homes for sale — Not just our listings.’ Well that’s a lie because not only are the listings of Jack Travis, Dave Barlow, Patty Good and Susan Beckley being deleted but with a little more investigation from insiders we also know the listings of over 150 agents at RE/MAX Town Center are also being deleted from the HER Web site.”
The information on the site is attributed to “Your friend and insider Herbie R. Jr.” Barlow said that he used a “pen name” for the communications about Real Living in an effort to avoid repercussions for disseminating the information.
“I don’t care if my listings are on that (site) or not,” Barlow said. “I just believe that if (Real Living) is truthful and honest with the general public and their own agents that’s the best outcome for everyone.”
There are a range of Web sites that include commentary about businesses and business practices, he said. “There are hundreds of these Web sites that are basically free speech. We haven’t tried to make money off of the Real Living trademark. Basically, we’re disseminating information about Real Living.”
Harley Rouda Jr. told Inman News that the communications through the e-mails and Web sites “created, obviously, some real concerns with our agent population,” and “seems to be a rather hurtful attempt” aimed at Real Living.
The lawsuit charges that the insiderealliving.com Web site included false and misleading statements, and that the “e-mail and Web site falsely claim that listings by real estate agents Jack Travis, Patti Good and Susan Beckley are not included on HER’s Web site.”