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BUZZANCO v. LORD CORP.

November 27, 2001

JOSEPH E. BUZZANCO, JENNIFER L. BUZZANCO, NORMAN H. BRANDT, GREGORY J. BUZZANCO, SUSAN A. BUZZANCO, JOSHUA G. BUZZANCO, THROUGH HIS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS, GREGORY J. BUZZANCO AND SUSAN A. BUZZANCO, JOEL C. BUZZANCO, THROUGH HIS PARENTS AND NATURAL GUARDIANS, GREGORY J. BUZZANCO AND SUSAN BUZZANCO, AND AMERIBOND, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
LORD CORPORATION, MACDONALD ILIG JONES & BRITTON, LLP, AND ROBERT MERSKI, SHERIFF OF ERIE COUNTY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiffs in this action assert claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law against Lord Corporation (hereinafter "Lord"), MacDonald Illig Jones & Britton, LLP (hereinafter "MacDonald Illig"), and Sheriff Robert Merski. The claims arise out of the execution of a Writ of Seizure obtained by Lord in a state court replevin action. MacDonald Illig represented Lord in this action, and representatives of both Lord and MacDonald Illig allegedly accompanied deputies of the Erie County Sheriff and participated in the execution of the writ on March 31, 1999. Presently pending are three motions: 1) Merski's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 16]; 2) Lord's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. No. 21]; and 3) MacDonald Illig's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [Doc. No. 23]. For the reasons stated below, each of these motions will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Gregory J. Buzzanco was employed by Lord until he resigned on July 5, 1995, and was employed by Ameribond, Inc. (hereinafter "Ameribond") on March 31, 1999. Complaint ¶ 12. His brother, Plaintiff Joseph E. Buzzanco, was the owner and President of Ameribond on the date of the search. Both Lord and Ameribond are manufacturers of adhesives, and in a Complaint for Replevin and Injunction and Damages filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, Pennsylvania, Lord alleged that Ameribond's adhesives had been produced with its trade secrets. Complaint ¶¶ 11, 13.

On the same day that it filed its Complaint, Lord obtained an ex parte "Order for Special Injunction and Writ of Seizure" from the court, which provided in relevant part:

2. Notice to Buzzanco of the Court's action before the seizure of the documents, records and computer files in question could lead to copying, destruction, or concealment of documents, records, and computer files, incorporating or embodying Lord's trade secrets, and confidential information.
3. Any potential harm to Buzzanco can be adequately remedied by requiring the posting of a bond by Lord, which shall be posted in the amount of $200,000.00.
4. Given the sensitive and confidential nature of the trade secrets in this case, and the possibility that such material may be copied, destroyed or delivered to a third party, it is appropriate that the record in this case should be sealed. IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, pursuant to Rules 1531 and 1075 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, that the Erie County Sheriff shall seize and hold the property described below in the care, custody or control of Gregory Buzzanco located at 5130 Evans Road, Erie, Pennsylvania 16509 or at such where the same may have been stored by Buzzanco until further order of this Court:
(a) any and all originals and copies of documents, records, computer files, computer disks and tapes and computer hard drives containing, incorporating, or embodying Lord Corporation customer lists; customer purchasing history and patterns; customer contact names; supplier lists; and specific formulations and process techniques for preparing Lord's adhesives and coatings, including but not limited to its important and commercially-sensitive rubber-to-metal adhesives, as well as acrylic, urethane, and epoxy adhesives.
(b) all personal computers and computer disks and tapes within Buzzanco's possession or control, for purposes of forensic evaluation to determine whether information of this type contained in (a) above is contained therein.

Order for Special Injunction and Writ of Seizure at 1-3, Ex. A. to Answer to Complaint by Lord [Doc. No. 19].

As alleged by Plaintiffs, the search and seizure occurred as follows. At 5:15 p.m. on March 31, 1999, deputies of the Erie County Sheriff and representatives of Lord and MacDonald Illig arrived at Gregory J. Buzzanco's residence. Complaint ¶ 17. Buzzanco requested that he be permitted to have an attorney present during the search, and was informed that the search would proceed immediately. The participants searched tables, cabinets, CD cases and other items purportedly looking for property of Lord. Complaint ¶ 21. They seized a computer, monitor and keyboard from the residence.

The participants allegedly then asked Buzzanco where he had stored the Lord property. Complaint ¶ 23. He responded that he did not have any Lord property because he had not worked for the company in some years and presently worked for Ameribond. The participants then allegedly told Buzzanco that he was obligated under the state court order to accompany them to the Ameribond facility. Complaint ¶ 24. Buzzanco contacted his brother and informed him that a court order authorized the party to search the Ameribond property and then took the party to the site.

Joseph E. Buzzanco objected to the search at the Ameribond offices, but was told by the party that they were authorized to conduct it. Complaint ¶ 28. The party allegedly did not find property belonging to Lord, but seized "various property of the Plaintiffs" without listing or itemizing such property. They then asked Joseph E. Buzzanco to produce Ameribond's checkbook, and he informed them that it was at his residence. Complaint ¶ 31. At 6:45 p.m., the search party left the Ameribond facility and proceeded to Joseph E. Buzzanco's residence. They allegedly did not find property belonging to Lord, but seized documents and computer records of Ameribond, Joseph E. Buzzanco and his wife Jennifer L. Buzzanco, Buzzanco Accounting, Asian Fighting Arts, and Industrial Systems and Controls without listing or itemizing the property seized. Complaint 45. The party left the residence at 9:30 p.m.

A hearing was held on April 1, 1999. Transcript of Hearing, Ex. C to Answer of MacDonald, Illig. Gregory J. Buzzanco and Joseph E. Buzzanco attended this hearing and were represented by counsel. On April 14, 1999, the Court of Common Pleas determined that Lord had established the probable validity of its claim of possession and of the grounds for the issuance of the writ, and confirmed the writ. Findings and Order for Preliminary Injunction and in Confirmation of Issuance of Writ of Seizure, Ex. D to Answer of MacDonald Illig. A Final Order of Court was issued on March 21, 2001, which, pursuant to a stipulation by the parties, directed the Buzzancos to deliver all documents relating to adhesives to Lord and erase from all computers in their care and control information relating to adhesives. Final Order of Court, Ex. E to Answer of MacDonald Illig.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The same standard is applied to assess motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and motions for judgment on the pleadings brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Regalbuto v. City of Philadelphia, 937 F. Supp. 374, 376-77 (E.D.Pa. 1995), affd, 91 F.3d 125 (3d Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 982, 117 S.Ct. 435, 136 L.Ed.2d 333 (1996). In both, the district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the pleadings, and must view the facts and inferences to be drawn from the pleadings in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Janney Montgomery Scott, Inc. v. Shepard Niles, Inc., 11 F.3d 399, 406 (3d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). The proper inquiry is "whether relief could be granted . . . `under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.'" Gasoline Sales, Inc. v. Aero Oil Co., 39 F.3d 70, 71 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting National Org. for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249, 256, 114 S.Ct. 798, 127 L.Ed.2d 99 (1994)). Judgment will only be granted if it is clearly established that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Regalbuto, 937 F. Supp. at 377 (citing Inst. for Scientific Info., Inc. v. Gordon and Breach, Science Publishers, Inc., 931 ...


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