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Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota, Inc. v. American Home Realty Network, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 31, 2014

REGIONAL MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE OF MINNESOTA, INC., d/b/a NorthstarMLS, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant,
v.
AMERICAN HOME REALTY NETWORK, INC., Defendant/Counterclaim Plaintiff,
v.
EDINA REALTY, INC. and HOMESERVICES OF AMERICA, INC., Counterclaim Defendants

Page 1033

Chad A. Snyder, Adam P. F. Gislason, Matthew D. Schwandt, and Michael H. Frasier, SNYDER GISLASON FRASIER LLC, Minneapolis, MN; Christopher R. Miller, AMERICAN HOME REALTY NETWORK INC., San Francisco, CA; Daniel E. Gustafson, Karla M. Gluek, and Amanda M. Williams, GUSTAFSON GLUEK PLLC, Minneapolis, MN; and L. Peter Farkas, FARKAS TOIKKA LLP, Washington, D.C., for defendant/counterclaim plaintiff.

Mark R. Bradford, Jeffrey R. Mulder, and Stanford P. Hill, BASSFORD REMELE, PA, Minneapolis, MN, for counterclaim defendants Edina Realty, Inc. and HomeServices of America, Inc.

OPINION

Page 1034

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING COUNTERCLAIM DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

Plaintiff Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota, Inc. (" RMLS" ) initiated this copyright infringement action against defendant American Home Realty Network, Inc. (" AHRN" ), alleging that AHRN uses photographs and other copyrighted materials from RMLS's real estate listing service without permission. AHRN, in turn, brought counterclaims against RMLS, alleging that it violated federal and state antitrust and trade practices laws by conspiring to exclude AHRN from its network. RMLS moved to dismiss AHRN's counterclaims, but the Court denied its motion. AHRN later added Edina Realty, Inc., (" Edina Realty" ) a member of RMLS, and its parent company HomeServices of America, Inc. (" HomeServices" ) as third-party counterclaim defendants (collectively " Counterclaim Defendants" ) to the antitrust claims. The Counterclaim Defendants now similarly move to dismiss the claims asserted against them. The Court will also deny this motion, finding that AHRN's allegations adequately state claims of antitrust violations against Edina Realty and HomeServices.

BACKGROUND[1]

I. PARTIES

RMLS is a real estate listing service company through which more than 13,000 real estate brokers and agents in Minnesota and western Wisconsin pool and disseminate information on homes available for

Page 1035

sale in their regions. (Compl. ¶ 8, Apr. 18, 2012, Docket No. 1; Second Am. Countercl. ¶ 20, Apr. 4, 2013, Docket No. 95.) RMLS is a cooperative run by local member-brokers and is affiliated with the National Association of Realtors (" NAR" ). (Second Am. Countercl. ¶ 20.) It is governed by a Board of Governors comprised of members appointed by the member-brokers. ( Id. ¶ 16.)

RMLS operates NorthstarMLS to provide real estate brokers and agents with real estate listing information by sending to member-brokers' consumer-facing website a data feed that includes the broker's own listings and the listings of all other NorthstarMLS members. (Second Am. Countercl. ¶ ¶ 16, 20; Compl. ¶ 9.) Agents and brokers also use NorthstarMLS for access to real estate listings and information in their respective markets. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Further, RMLS makes available brokers' offers of cooperation, which are the commission splits that listing brokers will pay other brokers who represent a buyer. (Second Am. Countercl. ¶ 20.)

According to AHRN's allegations, Edina Realty is the largest real estate company in Minnesota and the largest member of RMLS. ( Id. ¶ 2.) It is a subsidiary of HomeServices. ( Id. ) Edina Realty has three members on the RMLS Board of Governors, one of whom is the board's chairman. ( Id. ¶ 17.) AHRN alleges that HomeServices is the parent company of Edina Realty and the second-largest real estate brokerage firm in the United States, owning subsidiary firms in California, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. ( Id. ¶ 3.)

Defendant and counterclaim plaintiff AHRN owns NeighborCity, another online residential real estate service. ( Id. ¶ 5.) NeighborCity offers three primary services to its visitors: information about properties for sale, connection with buyer-side real estate agents for prospective buyers, and, through its AgentMatch software system, performance metrics, rankings, and statistics regarding real estate agents. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 5-14.)

II. COUNTERCLAIMS

After RMLS brought its initial complaint against AHRN for copyright violations,[2] AHRN brought counterclaims against RMLS, alleging violations of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § § 1 et seq. (Count I); Minnesota antitrust statutes, Minn. Stat. § § 325D.49 to 325D.66 (Count II); the Cartwright Act, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § § 16720, 16726 (Count III); and the Minnesota Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Minn. Stat. § 325D.44 (Count IV). (Second. Am. Countercl. ¶ ¶ 61-78.)

RMLS moved to dismiss the counterclaims against it, but the Court denied the motion. Reg'l Multiple Listing Serv. of Minn., Inc. v. Am. Home Realty Network, Inc. (" RMLS I " ), 960 F.Supp.2d 958, 2013 WL 3367132 (D. Minn. 2013), modified on other grounds by 960 F.Supp.2d 988, 2013 WL 6481201 (D. Minn. 2013), 2014 WL 67952 (D. Minn. Jan. 8, 2014). AHRN subsequently amended its counterclaims to add Edina Realty and HomeServices as Counterclaim Defendants. (Second Am. Countercl. at 1, 7.)

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Edina Realty and HomeServices now move to dismiss the counterclaims against them.

III. COUNTERCLAIM AGAINST RMLS

The Counterclaim Defendants contend that AHRN's claims against them are fundamentally different than the original claims against RMLS, and, accordingly, that the claims should be dismissed even though the Court already denied the motion to dismiss the same claims against RMLS. The Court will outline below some of the primary allegations relevant to the counterclaims against RMLS and the Court's previous conclusions regarding the adequacy of those allegations.

A. Agreement Not to License Information to AHRN

AHRN alleged that RMLS and its participant brokers entered into a continuing agreement to suppress competition in the marketplace. (First Am. Countercl. ¶ 26, Dec. 21, 2012, Docket No. 73.) First, AHRN alleged that RMLS and its brokers collectively agreed to refuse to give AHRN a license to access data feeds containing real estate listing data. ( Id. ) According to AHRN, RMLS and its members allow non-member third parties to access its database information, but they have endorsed and participated in a decision to enforce restrictions on which non-member third parties can access the information. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 27-28.) AHRN alleged that they base their decision on the third party's business model. ( Id. ¶ 28.) Among those restrictions is a requirement that third parties not allow access to any third party that provides buyer-side referrals (i.e., real estate agents not affiliated with the listing broker). ( Id. ¶ ¶ 27-28.) In other words, RMLS and its members will not allow access to third parties like AHRN, because AHRN makes referrals to the agent it determines is best suited for the buyer regardless of the agent's affiliation with the listing broker. ( Id. ) AHRN alleged that it contacted all of the third-parties that receive MLS data feeds to seek access to the data prior to this suit, and those third parties refused to extend the license on account of this alleged restriction on third-parties. ( Id. ¶ 31.) Further, AHRN alleged that no reasonable alternative sources of complete real estate data are available that would enable AHRN to conduct its business. ( Id. ¶ 23.)

AHRN asserted that this restriction on which third parties may receive data promotes an anticompetitive business model and destroys other innovative businesses in their attempt to enter the real estate market because RMLS and its participants control who has access to critical real estate data. ( Id. ¶ 19.) AHRN alleged that consumers suffer when new business models are forced out of the market. ( Id. ΒΆ 25. (quoting the U.S. Department of Justice as saying " '[n]ew business models are emerging that allow consumers to save thousands of dollars when they buy or sell a home,' ...


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