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Marks v. Alfa Group

June 25, 2009

BRUCE S. MARKS, ET AL.
v.
ALFA GROUP, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bartle, C.J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs Bruce S. Marks and Marks, LLC, doing business as Marks & Sokolov, LLC, initiated this diversity action against three foreign defendants: Altimo Holdings & Investments Ltd. ("Altimo"), a holding company organized under the laws of the British Virgin Islands; Crown Finance Foundation ("Crown"), a holding company organized under the laws of the Principality of Liechtenstein and incorrectly identified for docketing purposes as "Alfa Group"; and Financial Dynamics, Ltd. ("Financial"), a London-based "business communications consultancy" incorporated under the laws of England and Wales. The complaint alleges: (1) common law defamation; (2) statutory defamation under Pennsylvania law; (3) injurious falsehood; (4) commercial disparagement; (5) intentional interference with prospective contractual relations; (6) intentional infliction of emotional harm; (7) invasion of privacy; and (8) injunctive relief. Plaintiffs also seek monetary relief, including punitive and special damages.

Before us is the motion of all defendants under Rules 12(b)(2) and (6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

I.

When a defendant moves to dismiss claims under Rule 12(b)(2), the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that personal jurisdiction exists. See Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 295-96 (3d Cir. 2007). At this stage the plaintiff must establish only "a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction" and is entitled to have his allegations taken as true and all factual disputes drawn in his favor. Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004).*fn1 Nonetheless, the plaintiff must allege "specific facts" rather than vague or conclusory assertions. Marten, 499 F.3d at 298.

II.

Plaintiff Bruce Marks is a citizen of Pennsylvania. He is the sole partner in plaintiff Marks, LLC, a Philadelphia law firm with seven attorneys. Together with MS Ltd., a Moscow law firm with six attorneys, and MSB, Ltd., which maintains an office in Kiev with three attorneys, Marks, LLC does business under the moniker Marks & Sokolov, LLC. Their practice focuses in part on "representing persons harmed by fraud or corruption in Russia and Ukraine by finding means to bring their claims in the United States." As a result, they have filed numerous cases against "Russian and Ukrainian criminal and business groups, including many powerful oligarchs...."

Defendants, as noted above, are foreign corporate entities. None maintains offices, owns real property, or conducts business in Pennsylvania.

Defendants Altimo and Crown have been involved in a prolonged dispute with Telenor, a Norwegian company, over ownership and control of a pair of telecommunications companies. On November 12, 2008, Altimo sent a one-page open letter written by its chairman, Andrei Kosogov, to Telenor, accompanied by a three-page summary memorandum and twelve attachments (together, "the Releases"). In the letter, Kosogov requested that Telenor investigate "a wide range of documentary evidence... which suggests there has been questionable activity directed at Altimo and the members of its International Advisory Board." Kosogov wrote:

A network of legal firms and public affairs agencies in Russia and the UK appear to have undertaken black PR campaigns in the media to try to discredit Altimo, its parent company Alfa Group, and its shareholders involving methods such as payments to journalists and newspapers for the publication of information....

The accompanying memorandum, under the heading "Illegal and inappropriate activities of Telenor management against Altimo," asserts in pertinent part that:

Altimo has recently discovered a number of documents which indicate that various acts of inappropriate and illegal behaviour might have been used by the current management of Telenor and companies hired by Telenor.... The network of firms which appear from the evidence as working on behalf of Telenor include: Garda World and Hakluyt, two UK-based companies who directed both detective investigations and PR campaigns against Altimo. The former has been instructed by Marks & Sokolov, a legal company operating in the UK, U.S. and Russia. PBN, an American PR-agent and lobbyist based in Moscow.

Lobbynet, a Russian firm notoriously known for 'black' PR campaigns in the local media.

The memorandum further stated:

In late March 2008, Marks & Sokolov initiated a number of paid publications in the Russian media to discredit Altimo, Alfa Group and their shareholders. The campaign was directed through Garda World and managed in Russia by Lobbynet. The publications concerned the sudden death of Leonid Rozhetskin, a Russian businessman previously involved in the Megafon affair, and speculated about Alfa's involvement in the plot. As a result, three paid for ...


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