Even after winning concessions, Stephen E. Barnes wanted more from the competing law firm started by his partner's wife and two daughters.
Among other things, he asked for a temporary restraining order.
On Monday, a federal judge rejected his request and, in the end, dismissed his suit against Cellino & Cellino LLP.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford said Barnes, one half of the partnership that is personal injury giant Cellino & Barnes, lacked standing to bring his complaint.
She said Barnes needed one of two of things – the unlikely consent of partner Ross M. Cellino Jr. or the approval of the state judge overseeing their larger dispute – for his federal court suit to proceed, but he failed.
The judge in the larger suit, State Supreme Court Justice Deborah A. Chimes, has provided a tie-breaking vote when Barnes and Cellino cannot agree on major decisions affecting the firm. Wolford thinks Barnes should have gone to her with his request to sue Cellino & Cellino.
The all-female law firm, which has since changed its name, is headed by Anna Marie Cellino and her two daughters, Jeanna and Annmarie. She insists her husband, Ross Cellino. is not involved in the firm.
“We are obviously pleased with the court’s position today,” Jeanna Cellino said in a statement. “We also believe because we voluntarily changed our firm’s name, phone number and advertising, so there is no possibility of confusion with any other law firm, this whole effort is baseless.”
Jeanna Cellino said the court ruling means her firm will continue to operate under its new name, the Law Offices of Anna Marie Cellino.
In a separate statement, the Cellinos' lawyer noted that Barnes was required under federal rules to get the permission of his firm’s board, or an equivalent authority, before proceeding with his lawsuit against the Cellinos.
“In this case, Mr. Barnes needed to obtain permission from Judge Chimes, and did not,” said Julia Hilliker, a lawyer for the Cellinos.
In his suit, Barnes claims Cellino is secretly behind the new firm and that the firm is stealing Cellino & Barnes' high-profile trademark.
Barnes' lawyer, in a statement Monday, said his client is evaluating his next step in the wake of Wolford's ruling.
"Given that the decision did not address the merits of the trademark infringement and unfair competition claims, we remain resolute that the defendant law firm continues to market itself in a blatant attempt to palm off Cellino & Barnes, P.C.’s good will and unprecedented success," said attorney Christopher M. Berloth. "We will continue to pursue the courses of action that are in the best interest of C&B."
In her decision, Wolford mentioned the changes adopted by the Cellino women after Barnes filed his suit.
The firm changed its name to the Law Offices of Anna Marie Cellino, and altered its phone number and billboard layouts to avoid confusion with Cellino & Barnes.
Despite that effort, Barnes wanted additional restrictions on using the Cellino name, which the Cellinos opposed in court last week.
The dispute over Cellino & Cellino is the latest chapter in a legal battle that threatens to end the financial juggernaut known as Cellino & Barnes.
After working together to build one of the nation’s most financially successful personal injury law firms, Cellino filed a lawsuit saying that he could no longer stand working with Barnes and seeking to dissolve the law firm.