Renowned photographer Stephen Kirkpatrick filed suit against Mississippi baseball legend Will Clark, attorney Michael Simmons, Chris Bahl, law firm Cosmich, Simmons & Brown, David Holloway, Greg Spring, Daniel Alexander, and Muddy Water Camo, LLS in Hinds County Circuit Court last Tuesday. Mr. Kirkpatrick alleged the defendants participated in a well- camouflaged scheme to force him out of a company he founded and deprive him of his patent.
The complaint states Mr. Kirkpatrick and Stephen Maloney formed Muddy Water in 2010 "to develop camo patterns for licensing to manufacturers of hunting apparel." Mr. Kirkpatrick is one of the leading photographers of wildlife and nature in the world. Mr. Maloney thought there was a demand for camo patterns that used water images in the pattern. He allegedly asked Mr. Kirkpatrick for help in developing the idea. They formed Muddy Water Camo, LLC on May 25, 2010 and applied for a patent on September 16, 2010. The Secretary of State's website states only Mr. Maloney was a member.
Mr. Maloney allegedly hired attorney Michael Simmons to "perform legal work for the company" and that the lawyer was "a shareholder and employee of Cosmich, Simmons, & Brown. The complaint claims Mr. Simmons received a 10% stake in the company in exchange for his services and a $30,000 cash contribution. Mr. Kirkpartick argues that things began to go afowl as Mr. Simmons had a conflict of interest as he was acting as a lawyer for the company while he had an ownership interest in the company as well. He claims the attorney and his firm should have disclosed to him that a conflict existed and what the "adverse consequences" of that conflict could be. He said no shareholder consented in writing to the alleged conflict of interest.
Mr. Simmons apparently drafted an operating agreement for the company in 2012 that included a clause giving him the final say on all interpretations of the contract (P.6 of complaint posted below.). The shareholders decided to hire a full-time employee in 2013. Mr. Simmons wanted to hire Chris Bahl but Mr. Kirkpatrick questioned his hiring. The complaint states "friction" developed between the two shareholders. Mr. Bahl was a former employee of Cabelas. However, Mr. Kirkpatrick claims a Muddy Water employee said Mr. Bahl was fired from another job for "misconduct." Several defendants allegedly quacked and "threatened to sue the Mudy Water employee for defamation against Bahl." Mr. Kirkpatrick claims that Mr. Bahl "represented he could bring a $1.5 million investment" into the company. Muddy Water hired Bahl as CEO in March 2013. The complaint states that he did not make any investment in the company. Mr. Kirkpatrick claims the ownership of the company was:
The complaint states several owners questioned Mr. Bahl's performance as CEO and that a bloc led by Mr. Simmons "agreed to work together to drive Maloney, Kirkpatrick, and Tarlton (2% owner) out of the company." Mr. Simmons allegedly created a cool kids club, oops, a "secret investor email group" that excluded these three owners. Mr. Kirkpatrick charges Simmons, Holloway, Alexander, and Spring met on April 23, 2012 to determine "how to get rid of Kirkpatrick and Maloney" and hijack the company. It is assumed "get rid of" is used in a Mississippi redneck way instead of a Sicilian manner. They formed another company but only gave Mr. Maloney 5% and completely excluded Mr. Kirkpatrick.
The new company was called Yazoo, LLC. The Secretary of State's website states the company was formed on May 24, 2013 but was dissolved by the state in 2014 for failure to file the required annual documents. It states Mr. Simmons was the head duck of the company. The complaint states Messrs. Bahl and Simmons were the largest shareholders at 10% each while the owners of Muddy Water who were in the club were given shares equivalent to what they held in Muddy Water. Mr. Kirkpatrick claimed the formation of this new company was never disclosed to him.
Mr. Kirkpatrick argues the attorney "deliberately" hid "misconduct" by Bahl from him and instead voted with the other shareholders to force Messrs. Kirkpatrick and Maloney out of the company. He claimed Maloney received $10 for rights to the patent held by Muddy Water and nothing for his shares in the company. The shareholders also determined that Kirkpatrick's shares were also worth nothing and thus avoid paying him. However, the complaint states they were offering "shares to potential investors at $100,000 per share."
Mr. Kirkpatrick argues that the company earns all of its income "from the patterns that Kirkpatrick created." Muddy Water then fired Bahl on August 5, 2013 for "misconduct." He also claimed that the company abandoned the patent application but intended to file a new patent application that omitted his name. The defendants allegedly asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to "eliminate" Kirkpatrick's interest in the patent application.
The complaint charges Michael Simmons and his firm of legal malpractice. It charges all defendants with a breach of fiduciary duty as they had a duty to protect Mr. Kirkpatrick's interest. There are also counts of tortious interference with a business relationship, misappropriation of Mr. Kirkpatrick's work, and unjust enrichment. The plaintiff asks for all economic damages allowed by law and punitive damages as well.
Muddy Water has a website, muddywatercamo.com. The website does not state who created the pattern (See picture posted at beginning of post.). It only states:
The idea to build camouflage that is 100% in focus started in 2007 when an obsessed waterfowl hunter, who spent more than 30 years hunting in Mississippi, saw a huge need in the outdoors that was being overlooked. "Why," he wondered, "did every available camouflage pattern seem to look like a cookie cutter cartoon when it was to be used to hunt real life game in real life conditions?"The Secretary of State's website does not have any current businesses or companies that have the name "Clear Image Camo". Mr. Kirkpatrick is represented by attorney Phillip Thomas.
"Surely there has to be something out there that looks as real as the duck marsh I'm trying to hide in," he thought. He didn't realize it then, but that one simple statement would revolutionize the production and design of camouflage. Four years, 1,059 photographs and 103 pattern drafts later, Clear Image Camo’s Muddy Water pattern hit the marsh and the market. Muddy Water was the first and only camouflage pattern to incorporate water and reflections in a photographic pattern designed specifically for hunting waterfowl. Today, our patent pending camouflage development produces the most detailed and realistic camo on the market.