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Builders association sues MN GreenStar

By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires

Minneapolis — An already messy breakup between the Builders Association of the Twin Cities and the nonprofit MN GreenStar organization is getting messier.

BATC in fall notified GreenStar the association was pulling out of the program. Now, the association is suing GreenStar over intellectual property rights, breach of contract and nonpayment of loans.

MN GreenStar President Sean Morrissey said he’s shocked by the lawsuit, filed Dec. 9 in Ramsey County District Court.

BATC was a founding member of MN GreenStar, which tests and certifies homes for energy efficiency and air quality and is similar to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. GreenStar also provides training for homebuilders and designers.

GreenStar’s four-person staff occupied space in BATC’s Roseville office building until November, when GreenStar moved out at BATC’s request.

One of the issues in the lawsuit is GreenStar’s use of a checklist for certification of new homes. BATC, which reports the checklist is the associationís intellectual property, sought a temporary restraining order against GreenStar’s use of the checklist.

According to the motion for the order, BATC developed the Green Homebuilding Guidelines for residential construction in 2006, and the guidelines include a “new home user manual” and a “new homes checklist.”

“While GreenStar was authorized to use the Green Homebuilding Guidelines … the documents were to remain the intellectual property of BATC, and BATC never assigned or otherwise transferred its ownership of the Green Building Guidelines when GreenStar was formed,” according to the motion.

At a Dec. 13 hearing, Judge Gregg Johnson granted a temporary order restraining GreenStar from “selling, licensing, destroying or altering the new homes checklist” until a Jan. 24 hearing on the matter.

The order falls short of what BATC was requesting, said Patrick Burns of Burns Law Firm in Minneapolis and GreenStar’s attorney.

“That was why GreenStar felt they were successful at the hearing,” he said, “because the judge is allowing MN GreenStar to still use both the new and remodeling checklists to certify new and ongoing projects while the dispute is litigated.”

BATC officials did not return phone calls for comment.

Burns said GreenStar’s position is that BATC was just one of three founding members of GreenStar and that BATC now is trying to claim sole ownership of a new homes checklist.
The checklist is at the heart of what GreenStar does, so the temporary restraining order motion BATC filed is “somewhat like a minority shareholder trying to get a judge to tell McDonald’s not to any sell hamburgers until a dispute about the invention and ownership of the cheeseburger recipe is litigated in court,” Burns said.

BATC and GreenStar went separate ways over disagreements about the vision for the green certification program.

BATC Executive Director David Siegel said in November that some members complained GreenStar’s program is difficult to use, and that BATC intends to launch a new program to attract more participants.

But GreenStar officials countered BATC’s intention was to create a “light” version of GreenStar’s “holistic” approach to green homebuilding.

Another issue is money. In October, BATC asked GreenStar to begin making payments on a $306,418 loan agreement with BATC.

GreenStar was founded in 2007 when the Minneapolis-based Green Institute received a $40,000 grant to establish a statewide green building program. BATC was among the original partners.

Burns still holds out hope that the two sides can come to an amicable agreement.

“MN GreenStar is hoping they can work something out with BATC to avoid fighting,” he said, “and the burdensome cost of litigation.”

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