The facts of Eagle v. Morgan et al (E.D. Pa. Mar. 12, 2013) are pretty straightforward:
Dr. Linda Eagle was a cofounder of Edcomm, a "banking education company that provides services on-line and in person to the banking community." On October 7, 2010, a company named Sawabeh information Services Company (“SISCOM”) bought the company, kept Eagle and the two other cofounders hired as executives, but then fired them all on June 20, 2011.
Marketing on LinkedIn had been crucial a part of their business. Eagle and others had accounts linked to their work emails, and Eagle (in violation of the ToS) had shared her LinkedIn password with some of her colleagues there so they could help her keep the page updated. (It was http://www.linkedin.com/.... But when she was fired, well, let the Hon. Ronald Buckwalter explain:
When Dr. Eagle was terminated, Edcomm employees accessed her LinkedIn account and changed its password, effectively locking her out of the account. The parties stipulated that from June 20, 2011 to July 6, 2011, Edcomm had full control of the account. On July 7, 2011, LinkedIn took over the account and, by July 14, 2011, Dr. Eagle had regained access to the account. It appears, however, that, due to some unknown events occurring while the account was in the hands of LinkedIn, Eagle lost messages from June 20, 2011 to October 7, 2011, although this is not totally clear....After a trial, Judge Buckwalter found EdComm guilty of various torts under Pennsylvania law -- unauthorized use of one's name for commercial purposes; invasion of privacy by misappropriation of identity, and misappropriation of publicity -- though not every claim she had pursued.
[F]rom June 20, 2011 to July 6, 2011, both parties appeared to concede that the page reflected the name, picture, education, and experience of Sandi Morgan, the newly-appointed Interim CEO of Edcomm. The evidence reflects, however, that some information related to Dr. Eagle had not been fully deleted from the site, such as her honors and awards. It further appears that either a Google search for “Linda Eagle” or a search for “Linda Eagle” on LinkedIn during the time Edcomm had control of the account would direct the searcher to a LinkedIn account named “Linda Eagle” at the URL “http://www.linkedin.com/... Clicking on that link would bring the user to Eagle’s LinkedIn account, which now bore the name, picture, and credentials of Sandi Morgan.
But then came the damages question. Eagle "used her average sales per year divided by the number of contacts she maintained on LinkedIn to arrive at a dollar figure per contact, per year. She then divided that dollars per contact per year figure by four to represent that for one-quarter of the year, or approximately three months, she did not have full access to her LinkedIn account. Based on those calculations, Plaintiff arrived at a damages figure of somewhere between $248,000 and $500,000 depending on the annual sales figure used."
The Court didn't buy it.
Plaintiff has not established the fact of damages with reasonable certainty. Aside from her own self-serving testimony that she regularly maintained business through LinkedIn, Plaintiff failed to point to one contract, one client, one prospect, or one deal that could have been, but was not obtained during the period she did not have full access to her LinkedIn account. Indeed, the very real possibility exists that even with full access to her LinkedIn account, she would have not made any deals with any of her contacts during the time period in question. This possibility negates her ability to establish the fact of damages with a “fair degree of probability.”As for Eagle's punitive damages claim:
Moreover, even if Plaintiff had made a showing of a “fair probability” that she sustained
some damages during the loss of her LinkedIn account, she failed to provide a reasonably fair basis for calculating such damages. ... More importantly, [Eagle's damages expert] Mr. Brody failed to connect Dr. Eagle’s successful sales with any use of LinkedIn, even conceding at one point that when Edcomm was first started, “[t]here was no online." He further admitted that during Dr. Eagle’s highest sales years, she was not even using LinkedIn, meaning that her success was not predicated on the availability of this resource. Subsequently, using a methodology that seemingly has no basis in general accounting principles, he took Plaintiff’s lowest year of sales and divided that number by the number of contacts that Dr. Eagle maintained in her LinkedIn account (again a figure that was not documented in any papers, printouts, or testimony from a LinkedIn employee) to arrive at a profit per contact per year number..... Even the most liberal review of this mathematical calculation and its underlying numbers reveal it to be nothing more than creative guesswork based on mere speculation.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, even if Plaintiff could prove some damages, she fails to connect such damages with Defendant’s actions. For the period of June 20, 2011 to July 6, 2011, the period during which Edcomm maintain exclusive control over Eagle’s LinkedIn account, Plaintiff cannot even name, let alone document, a single lost customer, deal, or transaction. Although the Court is aware of the hardship in Plaintiff’s efforts to prove who attempted to contact her during this time period when no records were maintained, the Court nonetheless notes that any reasonable person seeking Dr. Eagle and aware of her self-proclaimed prompt responsiveness would have sought out other ways to reach her or, at a minimum, informed her that they had tried to reach her. Yet, not one individual or company was identified at any point in this litigation. This is particularly troubling in light of clear fact that Edcomm very publicly indicated that Dr. Eagle was no longer affiliated with Edcomm.
In the present case, the Court could certainly make a reasonable inference that Defendant Edcomm’s actions were taken with the direct intent to harm Plaintiff and impede her ability to compete in the banking education industry. By the same token, however, the Court could just as easily make a reasonable inference that Defendant Edcomm’s actions were taken under a well-intentioned belief that the LinkedIn account and its contents belonged to Edcomm and that, in light of Plaintiff’s willing surrender of her password to her assistant, it was entitled to enter the account upon her departure and alter the account as it saw fit. At the end, Plaintiff bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that her theory—that of maliciousness and reckless indifference on the part of Edcomm—is, in fact, the correct theory. Nonetheless, at trial, Plaintiff failed to call any Defendant, any other employee of Edcomm, or anyone with any personal knowledge of the events surrounding the taking of Eagle’s LinkedIn account who could provide some evidence, be it direct or circumstantial, regarding the Defendants’ state of mind and the circumstances under which these events occurred. All evidence being equal, the Court must find in favor of Defendant on the punitive damages claim.Yes, you got that right: Congratulations, you win. But so far as we can tell, LinkedIn is worthless, and so you win nothing.
Another day of civil justice in America.