A lingering dispute between a fiberglass manufacturer and a former dealer could be resolved before it hits the courtroom.
In mid-July, Viking Pools offered to settle at least some of the issues raised in a lawsuit filed by River Pools & Spas in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., according to legal documents.
The suit, filed in April, accused Viking Pools, its parent company Latham International and various subsidiaries of setting up Websites with domain names that included “riverpools” to divert business from River Pools & Spas of Warsaw, Va., to its own companies.
A countersuit filed by Viking in June accused River Pools of engaging in “a non-stop campaign to disparage and defame Viking, its dealers and its products, and to mislead, confuse and indeed to scare Viking’s customers and potential customers.” It seeks a permanent injunction against River Pools and co-owner Marcus Sheridan, as well as unspecified monetary damages.
River Pools was an authorized Viking dealer until the two companies severed ties in May 2008. Viking said it terminated the partnership because River Pools stopped promoting its products; River Pools contended that it voluntarily stopped selling Viking’s products two months prior to any official word from the manufacturer, according to court documents.
Regardless of the circumstances, the friction worsened after Sheridan began criticizing Viking online, including in his blog, riverpoolsandspas.com/blog. He also produced an e-book titled How to Buy a Swimming Pool the Right Way, From the Right Company, at the Right Price, which is available on his Website, www.poolschool.us. The 50-page account discusses the business practices and product quality of numerous fiberglass manufacturers, including Viking, which earned a C- grade from Sheridan.
Soon after the book’s publication, Viking President Todd Stahl released on his company’s Website a chapter-by-chapter review of Sheridan’s manual that began: “Right from the start it becomes painfully obvious that this e-book was written by a sixth grade girl or a disgruntled ex-dealer. His lack of experience within the fiberglass pool industry is one thing, but his lack of experience within the entire pool industry becomes glaringly obvious.”
Then, in March 2009, a handful of Websites, including www.riverpools.net, www.riverpoolsvirginia.com and www.riverpoolsva.com appeared online, according to court documents. Telephone numbers and links on those sites were connected to Websites and call centers associated with Composite Pools, a Latham subsidiary, court documents alleged.
“After their Websites went up, I started getting calls from people who said they were looking for me and instead got a company in West Virginia,” Sheridan said, referencing a Latham subsidiary’s facility.
The River Pools suit alleges that Viking’s actions constitute cybersquatting, a practice banned in 1999 by federal law.
After a complaint filed by River Pools with the World Intellectual Property Organization in June 2010, Viking agreed to take down the disputed Websites and relinquish the domain names.
When reached by phone, Latham President/Chief Executive Mark Laven declined to comment on pending litigation.
By press time, the two sides were hashing out prospects for a pre-trial settlement, according to Sheridan.
“I don’t want Viking to be the focus of what I do anymore,” he added. “My blog is respected by consumers — I have hundreds of followers, and I want the focus to be on elevating the industry and educating the public.”