The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit vacated an injunction restraining defendants from engaging in certain allegedly harassing conduct because there was no evidence tying the defendants to the alleged misconduct and reassigned the case to a new district judge to obviate any doubts about the judge’s impartiality. Tumey v. Mycroft AI, Inc., Case No. 21-1975 (8th Cir. Mar. 4, 2022) (Erickson, J.)
Tod Tumey is a lawyer who represents Voice Tech Corporation in patent litigation against Mycroft AI, an open-source network focusing on voice assistance technology. Tumey separately sued Mycroft on his own behalf, alleging that Mycroft retaliated against him for representing Voice Tech by launching or inspiring a series of cyberattacks, hacking attempts and harassing phone calls (“heavy-breathing phone calls”) against Tumey, his law firm and his family.
Mycroft had publicized its involvement in the underlying patent litigation and shared negative views about “bogus patents” and “patent trolls,” including statements that it is “better to be aggressive and ‘stab, shoot, and hang’ them, then dissolve them in acid.” Mycroft posted on its blog links to Tumey’s “confidential correspondence,” as well as documents in the underlying patent infringement lawsuit. Mycroft also posted updates on litigation developments with headlines such as “Mycroft Defeats Patent Trolls … Again … For Now.” The company cautioned patent trolls to “stay away” from Mycroft because “You’ll get your ass kicked,” and posted that “Rather than pay the troll toll, we decided to accept the fight.” In the underlying patent litigation, Voice Tech moved for an order requiring decorous and civil conduct by the parties, including a request that Mycroft cease using the term “patent troll.” The district court granted the order, which Mycroft viewed as sufficiently narrow and limited in scope such that it was willing to comply with the restrictions rather than appeal.
In the case brought on his own behalf, Tumey sought a temporary restraining order or, in the alternative, a preliminary injunction to prevent the cyberattacks, phishing and harassing phone calls that he and his family were experiencing and for which Tumey believed Mycroft was responsible. Mycroft opposed the proposed temporary restraining order (TRO), arguing that there was no evidence to attribute any of the alleged conduct to Mycroft. Mycroft also submitted sworn declarations averring that no one associated with Mycroft was involved in cyberattacks or harassment. The district court set a teleconference on the “Motion for Temporary Restraining Order.” About an hour before the set time for the hearing, Tumey circulated to the court and counsel a new proposed order, now styled as a preliminary injunction (PI). At the hearing, Mycroft objected to converting the request for a TRO to a PI hearing. The district court overruled the objection and heard testimony from several witnesses, including Tumey and that of an expert retained by Tumey who testified that he had not found any forensic evidence to attribute any of the cyberattacks or harassment to anyone associated with Mycroft. When Tumey was asked about the results of the expert’s [...]