MITCHELL, S.D. — A pair of South Dakota cousins are suing each other in federal court, with each alleging the other has tried to undermine their similar livestock equipment businesses.
Charles Raml, of Watertown, S.D., owns Iron Ranch Manufacturing and has sued Collin Gronseth, of Dimock, S.D., who owns C&W Welding. Raml filed a lawsuit on July 6, while Gronseth made his counterclaim against Raml on Aug. 12.
In his complaint, Raml accuses Gronseth of cybersquatting, false representation, trademark dilution, tortious interference, unfair competition and deceptive trade practices. Specifically, Raml alleges Gronseth of “wrongfully and intentionally hijacking” a Google My Business account for Iron Ranch Manufacturing to falsely indicate to customers that it was closed or not accepting business.
In December 2019, Raml learned that Gronseth had purchased the website domain names “ironranchmanufacturing.com” and "ironranchmfg.com” to direct customers to Gronseth’s “builtbycattlemen.com” website.
When Raml confronted Gronseth via text message on March 1 about purchasing the domain names, Gronseth told Raml on March 2 to make him an offer to get them back and that “everything is for sale,” contingent on signing documents that Raml couldn’t sue him for any reason “past, present or future.”
“Your verbal agreements about taking shots at me no longer work and that’s why I bought them,” Gronseth wrote to Raml. “If you don’t want them that bad, I’ll keep spending the money to own them. This won’t be a discussion about who is right and who is wrong, just a discussion about price.”
In his response and countersuit, Gronseth said the two men helped each other get established with their respective businesses. He says in 2018 that the relationship between the two started to deteriorate and, since then, Raml has “made a concentrated effort to harm Gronseth’s business by means of spreading falsehoods, interfering with Gronseth’s business relationships and publicly alleging that Gronseth’s products infringed on his patent rights. Gronseth said he has been manufacturing his own cattle sheds and fencing panels since 2010 and has been marketing and manufacturing them on a part-time basis since 2014.
At that time, Gronseth said, Raml was creating windbreaks for livestock and the two men decided they didn’t want to compete with each other by making similar products, so Gronseth agreed to not manufacture windbreaks and Raml would not make cattle sheds. Gronseth claims that a year later, Raml had breached that agreement by manufacturing cattle sheds and advertising them for sale.
Gronseth said his business increased to the point where he started C&W Welding in 2016. Gronseth alleges that Raml was “furious” to learn that Gronseth had created a manufacturing company and threatened to start a competing crop consulting agency to put his Gronseth’s father’s business out of work.
In August 2017, the Raml and Gronseth then met at Dakotafest in Mitchell, S.D., and sought to resolve their dispute by agreeing via an oral contract that Gronseth would not set up dealerships in the northern part of the state, and Raml wouldn’t set up in the southern part of the state, and the two would work together to purchase materials in bulk to reduce their overhead costs. Gronseth said that in 2018, he discovered that Raml had set up dealerships in the Platte and Alpena areas. Gronseth also alleges that Raml made harassing calls to the South Dakota State Fair in 2019, where Gronseth had set up a booth to advertise his products, and alleged that Gronseth had violated his patent rights.
Gronseth answered Raml’s lawsuit and said that Raml has tried to harm his reputation and business. Gronseth is alleging breach of contract, promissory estoppel, tortious interference, unfair competition, and defamation in his counterclaim.
“This lawsuit is yet another effort and means by Raml to achieve his ultimate goal, which is to put Gronseth out of business,” wrote attorneys Jacob Tiede, of Morgan Theeler law firm in Mitchell, and Chad Swantz of Suiter and Swantz Intellectual Property law firm in Omaha, Neb.
Raml’s lawyers sent Gronseth a cease-and-desist letter on March 19, alleging that C&W Welding is intentionally trading on the goodwill of Iron Ranch Manufacturing by using the domain names to confuse and redirect customers to Gronseth’s website. In the court complaint, Raml is demanding $200,000 in damages from the suit and ownership of the domain names. Raml said he has been using his Iron Ranch Manufacturing trademark since 2012.
“These actions were undertaken intentionally, systematically and in bad faith,” wrote Raml’s attorneys Brian Donahoe and Daniel Weinstein of the Donahoe Law Firm in Sioux Falls.
The next court proceeding in the case has not been scheduled. U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Piersol has directed the two parties in the case to organize discovery proceedings.