District court permanently closes door on Wickfire’s baseless claims

After Wickfire suffered a devastating loss in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Wickfire nonetheless continued to pursue baseless claims in district court. The district court dismissed Wickfire’s attempts and permanently dismissed Wickfire’s claims. Ends Wickfire’s eight-year lawsuit and provides TriMax with full vindication

AUSTIN, Texas, April 04, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Wickfire has suffered the latest in a long string of court losses against TriMax. This time, a district court definitively dismissed Wickfire’s baseless claims.

In 2021, an appeals court ruled that Wickfire had no evidence to support its multi-million dollar claims against TriMax. Undeterred by this monumental loss, Wickfire tried his luck once more and failed.

After losing in the Court of Appeals, Wickfire asked a district court to order TriMax to pay Wickfire over $400,000. This led to a flurry of findings and orders against Wickfire:

  • In February 2022, Federal Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower found that Wickfire’s motion lacked merit. In coming to his decision, the magistrate judge acknowledged “excessive costs and delays” due to Wickfire’s “litigation tactics”.

  • After that, United States District Judge Robert Pitman issued an order accepting the magistrate judge’s findings and denied Wickfire’s motion altogether.

  • On March 15, 2022, the Western District of Texas issued final judgment, finding that Wickfire “TAKES NOTHING” on all of its claims against TriMax and its principals.

  • In the same “TAKE NOTHING” judgment, the district court declared that Wickfire’s claims would be “DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE,” thereby preventing Wickfire from continuing to assert its baseless claims against TriMax in the future.

The orders and findings are contained in published opinions of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Case Number 17-3043040 and the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Case No. 1:14-CV- 0034-RP.

The lawsuit centered on Google AdWords Auctions, an online auction platform where companies like TriMax and Wickfire compete for ad space. Wickfire asserted a series of claims against TriMax, but for each of them Wickfire was unsuccessful. Wickfire alleged that TriMax intentionally interfered with Wickfire’s contracts, intentionally interfered with Wickfire’s potential business, and committed a civil conspiracy. An appeals court concluded that “Wickfire had provided no such evidence” and declared that each of these claims had failed.

After the Court of Appeals found that an earlier district court judgment awarding Wickfire $2.3 million was wrong due to a lack of supporting evidence, the district court more recently ruled the “TAKE NOTHING” judgment. Through the “TAKE NOTHING” judgment, Wickfire received no compensation and, instead, was ordered to pay its own costs and attorneys’ fees.

In the same lawsuit, the jury previously found that Wickfire LLC and its co-owners, Chet Hall and Jon Brown, intentionally interfered with TriMax Media’s business. TriMax argued that Wickfire intentionally interfered with TriMax’s contracts by (1) paying bribes to merchant representatives in exchange for exclusivity agreements; (2) impersonate TriMax by placing unauthorized advertisements plagiarizing TriMax’s advertising copy and containing other identifying information of TriMax; (3) repeatedly clicking on TriMax advertisements in order to artificially increase TriMax’s costs (known as “click fraud”); and (4) using an automated software program to manipulate Google’s bidding system (known as “bid jamming”).

TriMax presented evidence to the jury that Wickfire had been suspended from more than 200 Google accounts, violated merchant terms, and employed bogus user agents and proxies to conceal his identity. The jury also saw evidence that Google called Wickfire “known fraudsters” and that Wickfire registered the domain name “GoogleClickFraud.com.”

TriMax also presented evidence regarding Wickfire’s destruction of evidence. During the litigation, Wickfire erased all data from the laptop of its chief technology officer, Jon Brown, and then failed to disclose that information to TriMax or the district court. Once TriMax discovered the destruction, Wickfire claimed it was necessary, as the laptop was stolen in a home burglary. However, the police report – which TriMax independently obtained after Wickfire failed to produce a copy – contradicted Wickfire’s story as it mentioned nothing about an allegedly stolen laptop.

While the jury heard extensive evidence about Wickfire’s conduct including Wickfire’s intentional interference against TriMax (which the jury found), some of the most devastating evidence was excluded. For example, the jury was not allowed to see:

  • The police report of the burglary;

  • Registration documents showing Wickfire as the owner of “BitchesOfFacebook.com” and “PokeBitches.com”;

  • An email from a representative of a trader who, after refusing to accept the so-called bribes, called Wickfire “criminals”;

  • Screenshots of Wickfire advertisements impersonating those of TriMax;

  • An email from a merchant rescinding TriMax after mistakenly believing that TriMax was the source of the impersonating ads;

  • An email from a merchant complaining that Wickfire violated trademark terms and plagiarized TriMax advertisements;

  • A lengthy technical report which, according to a world-renowned computer expert, conclusively proves that Wickfire committed extensive click fraud against TriMax;

  • Real-time video demonstrating the auction scramble TriMax has experienced;

  • A summary of hundreds of TriMax merchant contracts disrupted by bid jamming; and

  • Emails from other Wickfire competitors complaining about Wickfire’s bidding tactics.

Despite the jury’s decision against Wickfire, Chet Hall, and Jon Brown for willful interference with TriMax’s business, no damages against Wickfire were awarded. As the district court noted, this was a jury finding after “the jury heard evidence that Google had investigated Wickfire’s AdWords auction and determined that it was authorized.”

However, the district court’s final judgment did not change the jury’s conclusion that Wickfire, Chet Hall and Jon Brown committed the intentional interference in the first place. Thus, the finding of interference against Wickfire, Chet Hall and Jon Brown is valid and final.

Before issuing the “TAKE NOTHING” judgment and conclusively dismissing Wickfire’s baseless claims, a magistrate judge considered a motion to disqualify Wickfire’s attorney, Katy Hall (formerly known as Katy Atlas). TriMax alleged that while in possession of the sensitive TriMax documents, Katy Hall began a personal and intimate relationship with Chet Hall (CEO and co-founder of Wickfire, and himself a party to the case) , divorced her former husband, had a child with Chet Hall and married Chet Hall after divorcing his previous wife. TriMax also alleged that Katy Hall wrongly accepted an internal position at Wickfire while in possession of the documents. Katy Hall is currently COO of Wickfire’s BuyersGuide.org. A magistrate, however, ruled that TriMax could not “discharge its heavy burden of proving that the disqualification was justified” and denied Katy Hall’s motion to disqualify.

TriMax CEO Laura Woodruff commented, “After the Fifth Circuit exonerated TriMax in 2021, we were surprised Wickfire chose to continue to pursue baseless claims in district court. However, we are satisfied with recent orders from the District Court which, like the Court of Appeals before it, has repeatedly dismissed Wickfire’s claims as lacking merit. We are, however, still disappointed that Google and the networks allowed Wickfire to intentionally interfere with TriMax’s business in the first place. Nonetheless, based on the jury’s finding that Wickfire interfered with TriMax’s business – a finding that has not been reversed or changed by the recent final judgment – we now hope that tactics such as spoofing Identity of competitors, kickbacks, bid jamming and click fraud will no longer be tolerated in the online advertising industry.

About TriMax Media:

Founded in 2003, TriMax Media is a digital marketing agency specializing in performance-based search engine marketing. TriMax served on the first Google Advertiser Research Council and was one of the first companies to generate over one million leads for clients using Google AdWords. The agency is focused on creating highly effective search marketing campaigns and developing successful, long-term relationships with its clients.

Company Contact:

For any questions, please contact:
Barry M. Golden
Egan Nelson LLP
[email protected]

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