The applicant runs certification programs for beverage experts. The highest certification is "Master Sommelier", which is usually only acquired by fewer than 10 people per year. In September 2018, 24 candidates received the certification. It turns out that an insider has leaked confidential information about the upcoming exam. The plaintiff canceled the test results including the defendant's results. As you can imagine, this event upset the club's wine world. The accused persisted as master sommelier, which is why the plaintiff sued him for trademark infringement. (Check out LinkedIn profile tracking how he's currently formulating his performance).
This decision is about the defendant's inclusion of the brands in his Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts. The plaintiff claimed California jurisdiction because the defendant "used his social media accounts to discuss and promote fine wines and apply to the wine industry," and he knew that his audience included California wineries and wine professionals. "
The court describes the social media posts:
The plaintiff refers to four offensive Instagram posts that the plaintiff claims are intentionally targeting California. All were published on the defendant's personal Instagram account, @chi_town_somm. The first is a close-up of the label on a bottle of Paul Hobbs Cabernet Sauvignon, vintage 2011. It is geotagged “Guerneville, California” and titled “Part of becoming a wine professional is being open and trying without preconceived ideas – that 2011 was incredible! #proofinthebottle #paulhobbs #secondcitysomms #napavalley. "The second is a close-up picture of three bottles of Paul Hobbs Chardonnay, born in 2016. It bears the geotag" Maestro & # 39; s Steakhouse "and the title" Thank you @maestrosofficial for an unforgettable night with #paulhobbswines @paulhobbswines & # 39; 16. Swiss chard are (fire emoji) (fire emoji). Surprise wines of the night… 2011 Dr. Crane and Katherine Lindsay PN & # 39; 12 RRV. Highlighted #ellenlaneestate #edwardjamesestate #rossstationestate #richarddinnervineyard. “The third is a picture of two rows of vines with leaves of different colors. It has the geotag "Napa, California" and the title "Malbec versus Cabernet color … which do you think is which? #nathancombsestate #paulhobbs. The fourth is a close-up of a business card with the accused's name over the words "Sommelier", "Richter", "Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition". It is not geotagged and bears the heading “17 Pinot, 3 Spanish, 11 Cab Franc, 24 Cab Sauv. Day 1 can't wait to start the day !! #criticschall #secondcitysomms #sommlife #sommchallenge. ”
The plaintiff also refers to a series of tweets that were part of a Twitter "chat" between the Twitter user "KeeperCollection", the defendant and other Twitter users. In his tweet announcing the chat, KeeperCollection refers to "Master #Sommelier @dpilkey #Chicago based". The other tweets show how KeeperCollection asks the defendant and his answers. The questions focus on how the defendant got into the wine industry and what his ideal wine job would look like without any specific reference to the plaintiff or his brands.
The plaintiff further claims that the defendant incorrectly identifies himself with the terms "Master Sommelier" and "MS" in the profile sections of his LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
The court concluded that the plaintiff did not establish personal jurisdiction in California (emphasis added):
The accused's Instagram handle, @chi_town_somm, targets Chicago and reflects his profession as a sommelier in that city. In addition, his hashtags also reflect his commitment to the Chicago wine scene (e.g. #secondcitysomms). Aside from the Chicago-specific references, the content of his posts seems to be general information and enthusiasm for wine – topics that could appeal to any sommelier or wine fan. Some posts contain information about his California childhood or the source of his interest in wine, and some contain references to his California-based employer.
In an attempt to link the defendant's general wine items to California, the plaintiff argues that the defendant's wine items must clearly target a California market, as California is widely recognized as a superlative wine. This logic chain is weakened. Although some of the defendant's posts deal with California wine, particularly his employer's wine, the defendant also appears to be known for his interest in “small vineyards and hard-to-find bottles from around the world”. The plaintiff's argument would make a state citizen write a personal social media post about wine under the patronage of the California courts simply because a lot of good wine is made in California. According to the plaintiff's logic, anyone who has bought California wine and tagged a picture in Napa Valley on a personal Instagram account is subject to personal jurisdiction. This expansive concept of jurisdiction affects the amount of contact that courts have traditionally needed to justify the exercise of judicial power.
Personal Instagram accounts can indeed be used to build a personal “brand” and generate advertising revenue. However, scaling and alignment are crucial questions in this context. A personal, albeit public, Instagram account with a small number of followers differs from a popular commercial website that focuses specifically on a Californian industry like the one discussed in Marvix. Here, the accused did not use his social media contributions to "commercially exploit" the California market. Although some contributions refer to California wines made by his employer, these wines are commercially available in the United States. If a market were addressed by these entities, it would be the markets within the defendant's geographic sales area, to which California does not belong. As the Court found in Nebel, the fact that these posts were publicly available and could focus in part on the defendant's personal branding and career as a sommelier does not make them commercial. The contributions were not advertising in themselves and were probably only distributed to the relatively small number of people who follow the defendant's personal accounts. The court found that the defendant's contributions were primarily personal content available to interested parties…
The markings in the defendant's descriptions are used in the profile sections of the defendant's social media accounts. However, the court disagrees with the plaintiff's argument that these profiles are particularly California-only because the defendant is a sommelier and wine is made in California.
In this case, geotagging turned out to be unimportant. However, in cases of personal jurisdiction, anything that indicates that the accused knew he was interacting with a state can be used as evidence of the knowledge or intent of the geographic impact. The court rightly says: "According to the plaintiff's logic, anyone who bought California wine and tagged a picture in Napa Valley on a personal Instagram account is under personal jurisdiction." It cannot be the law. However, if a brand name knowingly communicates with the plaintiff's chosen forum, as indicated by geotagged posts, there is a good chance that other dishes are not as likeable as this.
Case quote: Court of Master Sommeliers v Pilkey, 2019 WL 9443609 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 9, 2019). Note: The protocol ends after this decision, so the plaintiff has apparently dropped the matter.