Court dismisses computer fraud suit that alleged man stole information to benefit his own business

By Charmaine Little | Dec 11, 2018

MIAMI – The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida sided with a man being sued for allegedly stealing a former employer’s protected information to benefit his own business, partially dismissing several claims in the suit in the court's Dec. 10 ruling by U.S. District Judge Darrin P. Gayles. 

Gonzalo Fernandez Del Castillo-Quintana initially sued his ex-employer, produce distributor Altex USA Corporation, in Mexico for terminating him without cause, court filings said.

 Altex then filed its own lawsuit in federal court against Fernandez alleging violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, money lent, breach of contract, violation of the Florida Uniform Trade Secrets Act, conversion and breach of fiduciary duty.

The suit claimed that during Fernandez's time as a manger, he not only accessed sensitive information without authorization, but saved it to a third party and used it to help out his own company. He also allegedly copied and deleted information just before he was fired. 

Fernandez filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and an alternative motion to dismiss or stay his action pending a ruling for his lawsuit in Mexico.

Since Altex’s lawsuit did not state whether it took away Fernandez’s access when he was terminated or before, the company failed to state if Fernandez did or didn’t have authorization to access the information at time, the district court said. Tthere is a chance he didn’t do it “without authorization,” the court said. 

Still, the alleged fact that Fernandez got a hold of the information and copied and deleted it would have gone beyond any granted or authorization he did have to access the information. Considering this, the court said Altex fulfilled its requirements to show Fernandez went above his authorized access to the company computers. 

While Altex said the databases are used to do business across state lines, the court dismissed the computer fraud allegations because it can’t assume that Fernandez used the company’s computer to do business for Altex nationwide, especially since Altex didn’t claim that he did. Plus, Altex didn’t make any claims concerning internet connection.

Regarding Fernandez’s alternative motion, the court determined a dismissal or stay isn’t the best solution in this case as there was no issue of the case in Mexico having fraud. It also added a stay wouldn’t be fair for either party.

The court dismissed the first count without prejudice, giving leave for Altex to amend within 10 days. The remaining counts were dismissed without prejudice, permitting Altex to refile in state court. The court also denied Fernandez’s petition for a stay.

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