Judge pens final chapter on author’s ill-fated suit against Amazon

By Dan Churney | Jul 15, 2016

A Chicago federal judge has closed the book on an amateur author's suit against Amazon, ruling the author’s works about his life as a homeless person were not counterfeited and sold by the online retailer as alleged. 

The June 13 ruling was issued by Ruben Castillo, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois, favoring Seattle-based Amazon.com, Inc. over Chicago resident Reginald Hart. 

Hart wrote two books, titled Vagabond Natural and Vagabond Spiritual, respectively, about his homeless experience, distributing the books on a limited basis for the purpose of raising money to fight what he termed "vagabondage." Hart alleged he later learned to his dismay “counterfeit” copies of his books were for sale on Amazon. 

Hart said he sent a number of electronic messages and one letter to Amazon beginning in March 2014, telling the company to stop selling allegedly “unlawful reproductions” of his books. Hart also asked questions of Amazon, including the number of his books sold; the answer was six. 

In the exchange of correspondence, Amazon eventually told Hart in January 2015 it would remove the books, but cautioned it “typically takes 2-3 days for a listing to disappear once it has been removed.” However, the books did not vanish from Amazon until March 2015. 

In the meantime, Hart – acting as his own attorney – filed suit Feb. 9, 2015, against Amazon, alleging the company engaged in copyright infringement by counterfeiting, displaying and selling his books, and in the process, “confusing” consumers. Hart cited the federal Lanham Act, the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Illinois Right of Publicity Act. 

As a result, Hart claimed he suffered headaches, anguish and depression, and was “disrupted in his normal sleep patterns, damaged in his person and therein experience(d) a violation of his rights akin to being raped.” 

Shortly after bringing his suit, Hart asked Chief Judge Castillo to appoint him counsel, which Castillo did, tapping the Chicago firm of Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym. After taking on the assignment, the firm concluded Hart had no grounds for his complaint, and in the aftermath of an unsuccessful settlement conference in August 2015, the firm was allowed to withdraw. Hart pushed on, again representing himself.

Amazon also believed the suit was baseless, filing a motion to dismiss for that reason. Castillo granted the motion, but gave Hart the chance to make up the deficiencies in an amended complaint. Hart followed through on the opportunity, and Amazon again moved to dismiss. Castillo was not impressed with Hart’s newest effort, describing Hart’s complaint as “at times difficult to understand.” 

At any rate, Castillo proceeded to analyze the complaint, finding it defective on every count. Castillo did note he sympathized with Hart’s frustrations with Amazon and believed the company should have removed the books sooner. However, Castillo dismissed the suit and said he saw no point in allowing Hart to file another amended complaint, so he closed the case, opening it up to appeal, if Hart so chooses. 

Amazon has been defended by Bartlit, Beck, Herman, Palenchar & Scott, of Chicago.

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