Update (December 19, 2016): The Minnesota punitive damages statute provides:
(a) Punitive damages shall be allowed in civil actions only upon clear and convincing evidence that the acts of the defendant show deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others. (b) A defendant has acted with deliberate disregard for the rights or safety of others if the defendant has knowledge of facts or intentionally disregards facts that create a high probability of injury to the rights or safety of others and: (1) deliberately proceeds to act in conscious or intentional disregard of the high degree of probability of injury to the rights or safety of others; or(2) deliberately proceeds to act with indifference to the high probability of injury to the rights or safety of others.
The allegations in Bubble Pony (“BP”) vs. Facepunch (described in earlier posts below and in the linked memorandum of law) are that BP’s principal, Patrick Glynn, did the lion’s share of work on Rust, a successful computer game, and Facepunch maneuvered to avoid giving Glynn his rightful share of the millions of dollars of Rust profits, necessitating this lawsuit.
Assuming BP can prove these allegations, do they rise to the level of triggering punitive damages under Minnesota law?
Minnesota Litigator will go out on a limb here and predict that BP will lose the motion. “The mere fact that a party has committed a wrongful and unlawful act affecting the person or property of another does not justify the imposition of [punitive] damages in an action to redress the wrong. To justify such damages the tort must have been committed wantonly or maliciously, . . . as to establish malice in fact.” Vine v. Casmey, 90 N.W. 158, 158 (Minn. 1902). A dispute over how to divvy up a pot of money does not strike me as the kind of case that would normally justify punitive damages and we’ve noted in earlier posts that Minnesota courts are generally not fond of punitive damages. It sometimes seems that Minnesotans’ allegiance to cool and dispassionate civility most often outweighs any burning desire to inflict punishment.
Update (December 9, 2015) (under the headline, “Facepunch Lands Some Hard Blows, But Enough to Call the Fight?”): This week, Sr. U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty threw out Plaintiff Bubble Pony’s breach of contract claim, its fraud claim, Plaintiff Patrick Glynn’s employment claims, his intentional infliction of emotional distress claim, his defamation claim, and his negligent supervision and retention claim, all discussed below. But Glynn/Bubble Pony lives on. Judge Doty allowed the plaintiffs’ claims of joint ownership of copyright to go forward and “tortious interference with economic advantage,” however.
I think I did pretty well on my prediction below but, as all plaintiffs’ lawyers know, you don’t have to win everything, you have to win one thing: money. And Mr. Glynn and Ms. Pony are one step closer…
Update (July 13, 2015): Defendant Facepunch, as its name kind of implies, came out swinging last week with a motion to dismiss Ms. Pony’s voluminous complaint in its entirety. It’s difficult to have a 108-page 23-count complaint thrown out in its entirety arguing that every single pled count is fatally defective. But Facepunch, I predict, will get pretty far, if not all the way, in its battle v. Bubble Pony.
Still, a knock-out in the first round? How often does that happen?
Of the many claims brought by Plaintiff Glynn and his company Bubble Pony, there are defamation claims. Some of the challenged comments were posted on Reddit.com, an internet message board, and posted on a blog. Facepunch drops a footnote on page 30:
Internet message boards and blogs are well-known for featuring rhetorical hyperbole and colorful language; the fact that the statements at issue were published in these spaces makes it less likely that a reader would interpret the statements as stating facts.
This seems to me to be close to saying, “No one takes a blabbering drunk’s nasty comments seriously, so they can’t be defamatory…” I can see the strength in that argument. And also the weakness. Stay tuned…
Original post (May 12, 2015) (under headline Bubble Pony v. Facepunch Studios): Regular readers of Minnesota Litigator know that I write about a wide variety of state and federal civil litigation in Minnesota but certain cases seem to catch my attention for longer periods of time. I cover some cases repeatedly over the lives of the lawsuits. Some might call it perseveration (highly repetitive idiosyncratic behavior usually caused by brain injury or other organic disorder). Other, more charitable readers (thanks again, MOM!), might counter-argue that I am simply homing in on particularly interesting Minnesota cases and following them. They’re dry to many but intense drama to a few thousand law nerds.
I recently stumbled across the caption of Bubble Pony v. Facepunch. I saw that the case includes a 108-page first amended complaint. I got that “here-we-go-back-down-the rabbit-hole again” feeling…
Whether this oddly-captioned dispute over rights to money generated by an on-line “internet survival game called RUST” becomes another valuable resource for Minnesota Litigator commentary on Minnesota civil litigation remains to be seen but it looks like it could be promising.
On the one hand, it might just be another internet start-up “done good” situation where founders battle over who gets how much of the staggering profits ($46 million in sales in “a little more than one year”). “u will need to buy a shovel as well to shovel all of the money around,” Defendant told Plaintiff at one point.
On the other hand, maybe every single one of these “internet start-up ‘done good’ situations where founders battle” contain interesting legal and factual questions if well-dissected.
This one has some interesting characteristics.
- Following this case will be a tutorial in “gamer” jargon and culture, a real-life analog to The Social Network.
- The Plaintiff never graduated from high school and, from the complaint he seems to be a “coder geek” from central casting.
- It appears that RUST started with a bang, then RUST co-founder attempted to squeeze out the other (the Plaintiff coder geek) and release a “new” Rust game without Plaintiff. Apparently the “new” RUST failed to excite gamers like the “Legacy” game did.
- The business deal seems to have been hammered out in email exchanges that say reckless things like, “you’d get something like a 60% cut of all the profits (probably more, that’s kind of TBD). So we’d kind of be investing in you, kind of. Does that sound like the kind of situation you’d like to be in?” (That kind of casual contracting is fine when you’re organizing a garage sale with your neighbor but does not work out very well for multi-million dollar business ventures.)
- And there are gems in the complaint like this “Plaintiff also configured the particle code used to create blood spatter shown when player avatars and animals are shot or wounded in the game.” (First Amended Complaint at Para. 42.)
And there’s more: in case you’re curious about gamer geek hyper-twaddle, the complaint includes an exhaustive list of foul-mouthed, unfunny, misogynistic, trash-talking communications, as well ((First Amended Complaint at Paras. 102- 110) (with annotated footnotes in case you are not current on the latest in foul language).
In my opinion, the complaint could have done without these quotes. Their inclusion seems petty and a distraction from the actual issues in the case. Tastelessness and bad humor are bad traits but they do not normally state cause of action. Publishing other people’s tastelessness and bad humor is arguably itself in bad taste?
In the end, the 108-page complaint 23-count complaint could have used some serious pruning but, then again, what do I know?