Panel says it believes the complaint contained false statements and evidence designed to mislead it.
A World Intellectual Property Organization panelist has found reverse domain name hijacking in a cybersquatting dispute over the domain CheapStuff.com. It’s a disturbing case in which the Respondent’s counsel asserts—and the Complainant’s counsel ultimately does not refute—that the Complainant submitted falsified documents to the panel.
The Complainant is CheapStuff, Inc., but the communications in the case and the attorney who handled it for the Complainant are associated with AdMedia.
The crux of the Complainant’s case is that the domain was removed from its control even though it paid the renewal fee for the domain. It alleges that, when it reached out to the new domain owner (who bought it in an expired domain auction), the new owner asked for $150,000.
But a close examination of the documents and timeline call these assertions into question.
First, the Complainant produced an invoice and receipt for renewing the domain name dated 4/22/20. This is more than a month after the domain expired and the new owner acquired the domain at NameJet.
Second, the email in which the Complainant alleges that the Respondent asked for $150,000 for the domain has several oddities. The Respondent says he didn’t send the email. The Respondent’s attorney, John Berryhill, noted:
Secondly, on inspection of Complainant’s Annex 6, the Panel will note the notation “forwarded message” in what purports to be a reply, and a curious non-carriage-returned alignment of the “To:” field in Complainant’s exhibit. The auto-text “forwarded message” is not added to quoted text in an ordinary email reply, as any email user knows. The Respondent denies sending the email claimed in Complainant’s Annex 6, and it appears the Complainant forwarded its own sent message to itself and wrote in the “reply”.
The image below depicts the email exhibit attached to the Complainant’s submission as Annex 6. I have blurred out the email handles and highlighted the two items pointed out by Berryhill. I have also highlighted a statement by the sender that states it owned the domain since 1997, which Berryhill says is false.
In finding reverse domain name hijacking, panelist John Swinson wrote:
…The Complaint was in the Panel’s view of the evidence submitted brought with disregard for the truth, and contains false statements and evidence designed to mislead the Panel.
For example, the Complainant says that the Complainant paid all renewal registration fees to the Registrar, including the recent renewal fee, but through some fault of the Registrar the Disputed Domain Name was not renewed. As part of the Complaint, the Complainant provides a purported invoice to show the payment of the renewal fees to the Registrar. The purported invoice is dated after the Respondent acquired the Disputed Domain Name at auction and after the Disputed Domain Name expired.
The Panel’s jurisdiction ends with this Decision, but the Respondent may have reason to report Complainant’s representative who certified the Complaint to the appropriate (e.g., bar association or otherwise) authorities.
The Complainant was represented by AdMedia’s in-house counsel, Robert Bass. I reached out to Bass to see if he wanted to comment on the allegations for this story. Bass responded:
The decision was simply wrong on these issues. Unfortunately, the way the process works, there is no ability to refute these erroneous conclusions. Thank you.
It’s worth noting that the Complainant made supplemental filings in the case, neither of which apparently address the Respondent’s allegations of doctored exhibits. I followed up with Bass by stating:
I’d like to give you the opportunity to refute them publicly because it wasn’t done in any of the additional submissions. So if you’d like to explain the Network Solutions renewal invoice from after the domain expired, or the issues with the email, pleas (sic) let me know.
Mr. Allemann: I have nothing further to add and stand by what I wrote. Thank you.