United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
GRANT A. KYLE and BLUGUISE, LLC, Plaintiffs,
KELLY McDOUGALL; TECHNOLOGY FUSION, LLC; and TEK FUSION GLOBAL, INC., Defendants.
LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.
This matter comes before the court on defendants' motion to transfer the case to the Eastern District of Virginia, Newport News Division (DE 5); plaintiffs' motion to remand (DE 9); and defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to join a necessary party, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(7) (DE 16). These motions have been fully briefed, and the issues raised are ripe for ruling. For the following reasons, the court denies plaintiffs' motion to remand, grants defendants' motion to transfer, and denies without prejudice defendants' motion to dismiss.
A. The North Carolina action
Plaintiffs filed the instant action in Wake County Superior Court on March 10, 2014 (the "North Carolina action"), asserting claims for declaratory judgment, breach of contract, breach of implied duty of good faith, unjust enrichment, accounting, tortious interference with contract, and constructive trust. Plaintiff Bluguise, LLC ("Bluguise") is a limited liability company based in North Carolina that has developed certain computer software (hereinafter the "Software"), through its sole member/manager Grant A. Kyle ("Kyle"). Defendants Technology Fusion, LLC, and Tek Fusion Global, Inc., ("Tek Fusion") are small businesses based in Virginia, owned and managed by Kelly McDougall ("McDougall"), which have used the Software in their business operations.
The factual allegations in the North Carolina action may be summarized as follows. Starting in 2009, plaintiffs entered into an agreement with defendants under which plaintiff created the Software in North Carolina and licensed the Software to defendants for use in defendant's business in Virginia, including by installing and selling the Software to customers. Under the terms of the license agreement, defendants agreed to pay plaintiffs fifty percent (50%) of all revenues received by defendants for each installation or sale of the Software. Plaintiffs also provided separate independent contracting services for defendants. In addition, starting in April 2013, defendants employed plaintiff Kyle for the limited purpose of providing testimony in litigation on behalf of defendant Tek Fusion. In February 2014, defendants claimed ownership over the Software, and demanded that plaintiffs provide the Software to them. Plaintiffs refused to do so, and defendants threatened to sue plaintiffs.
In the North Carolina action, plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment under North Carolina law that plaintiffs created the software in the course of an independent contractor relationship, and that defendants have no ownership interest in the software. Plaintiffs claim that defendants breached their Software license agreement by selling applications using the Software without paying plaintiffs the agreed-upon share of revenues. On the basis of the same conduct, plaintiffs assert that defendants have breached the implied duty of good faith and fair duty, have been unjustly enriched, and have interfered with plaintiffs' contractual relations. Plaintiffs seek an accounting of all sales involving the Software, and a constructive trust comprised of the Software and all earnings arising from its use. Plaintiffs demand a jury trial and seek monetary damages "in an amount in excess of $25, 000, " in addition to the declaratory relief.
Defendants removed this action from Wake County Superior Court to this court on April 2, 2014, upon the basis of diversity jurisdiction. In their notice of removal, defendants assert that the true amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.
B. The Virginia action
On the same date as removal in the North Carolina action, defendants filed a motion to transfer the North Carolina action to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Newport News Division, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391, 1404, and 1406. In support of the notice of removal and the motion to transfer, defendants submitted declarations of defendant McDougall, which include allegations and exhibits regarding ongoing litigation between the parties in the Eastern District of Virginia (the "Virginia action").
In the Virginia action, Tek Fusion commenced suit against Kyle, Bluguise, and an additional individual, Edmund D. Zink ("Zink"), in the circuit court for the city of Williamsburg and county of James City, Virginia, on March 11, 2014. Defendants in the Virginia case (who, absent Zink, are the plaintiffs in the present case) removed the complaint to the Eastern District of Virginia, Newport News Division, on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, on March 17, 2014. See TEK Fusion Global, Inc. v. Kyle et al., 4:14-cv-00031-TEM (E.D.Va.).
In the Virginia action, Tek Fusion claims that Kyle, Bluguise, and Zink, conspired to misappropriate confidential information about Tek Fusion, including Tek Fusion's computer source code, during their employment with Tek Fusion. Tek Fusion further claims that Kyle, Bluguise, and Zink interfered with Tek Fusion's existing business relationships. Tek Fusion seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction restraining them from using confidential information and other data obtained by Kyle and Zink through their employment with Tek Fusion. Tek Fusion also seeks an accounting of business done and profits made by Kyle, Bluguise, or Zink, as a result of the alleged misappropriation. Tek Fusion further seeks compensatory and punitive damage in excess of $1, 350, 000.00.
The facts alleged in the Virginia action include hiring of Kyle, acting through Bluguise, as an independent contractor, to develop certain software for use by Technology Fusion, LLC, and Tek Fusion, in 2010 and 2011, as well as the hiring of Kyle and Zink as full-time employees of Tek Fusion in 2013. The complaint in the Virginia action details the information technology and data Kyle and Zink allegedly controlled in their positions as Vice President of Engineering and Senior Software Engineer. The complaint also includes allegations that Kyle and Zink developed certain source code on behalf of Tek Fusion which corresponded to software developed by Kyle and Zink, called "BluMap, " which was improved upon while Kyle and Zink were employed with Tek Fusion. The complaint further suggests that the software developed by Kyle and Zink is instrumental to Tek Fusion's proprietary "mission management software suite named Pathfinder.'" (Virginia Compl. ¶ 24). The complaint states that Tek Fusion is unable to deliver on United States government contracts as a result of actions of Kyle and Zink.
In the Virginia action, the parties consented to having all proceedings and trial conducted by a United States Magistrate Judge, and the matter proceeded to hearing on plaintiff's preliminary injunction motion. On July 16, 2014, following a hearing, the court granted in part plaintiff's preliminary injunction motion, in part, ordering Kyle and Bluguise to return information technology to Tek Fusion, including "source codes, passwords and any other information that will fix the problems caused by Kyle, and which will allow [Tek Fusion] to properly use the computer systems." TEK Fusion Global, Inc. v. Kyle et al., 4:14-cv-00031-TEM, Preliminary Injunction ...