Former Mass. partners sue R.I. solar developer Southern Sky

SOUTHERN SKY RENEWABLE ENERGY RHODE ISLAND has been sued by Southern Sky Renewable Energy in federal court. From left, North Providence Chief of Staff Richard Fossa; North Providence Town Council President Dino Autiello; Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio; Gov. Gina M. Raimondo; North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi; Southern Sky President Ralph A. Palumbo and Southern Sky Vice President Lindsay McGovern in front of a Southern Sky Renewable Energy Rhode Island solar array in North Providence in October. / COURTESY SOUTHERN SKY RENEWABLE ENERGY RHODE ISLAND
SOUTHERN SKY RENEWABLE ENERGY RHODE ISLAND has been sued by Southern Sky Renewable Energy in federal court. From left, North Providence Chief of Staff Richard Fossa, North Providence Town Council President Dino Autiello, R.I. Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo, North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi, Southern Sky President Ralph A. Palumbo and Southern Sky Vice President Lindsay McGovern in front of a Southern Sky Renewable Energy Rhode Island solar array in North Providence in October. / COURTESY SOUTHERN SKY RENEWABLE ENERGY RHODE ISLAND

PROVIDENCE – A lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island against Southern Sky Renewable Energy Rhode Island LLC by Southern Sky Renewable Energy LLC this week.

The lawsuit by Massachusetts-based Southern Sky Renewable Energy concerns Ralph A. Palumbo, who was one of three founding members of the Massachusetts entity and founder of the Rhode Island company with the similar name. The suit alleges that Palumbo’s use of the Southern Sky Renewable Rhode Island brand is trademark infringement, unfair competition, alleges false designation of origin and alleges federal false advertising.

The other two founders of the Massachusetts entity are Francis X. McMahon and Anthony DelVicario.

The lawsuit also said that the Massachusetts Southern Sky entity had removed Palumbo from its board of management on May 10 “for cause.”

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The suit alleges that Palumbo started the Rhode Island entity without the members of the board of the Massachusetts company’s knowledge in 2015 and operated in direct competition with the original entity.

Southern Sky Renewable Energy Rhode Island disagreed with the lawsuit.

“SSRERI categorically rejects all of the claims and baseless allegations set forth in the complaint. The filing is nothing more than a shakedown attempt by Mr. Palumbo’s former business partners,” said Lindsay McGovern, chief operating officer of Southern Sky Renewable Energy Rhode Island, in a statement Friday. “Ironically, these same individuals have long been involved in competing solar ventures themselves, or having taken engagements opposing solar development in Rhode Island, including lobbying at the Statehouse.”

The Rhode Island entity has 24 projects in place in the Northeast, according to its website. The Massachusetts company, in the suit, claims to have had no knowledge of the development of the projects.

The lawsuit also argued that the use of the name and an allegedly similar logo have damaged the Massachusetts company and asks for compensatory damages, an injunction on the use of the Southern Sky name and related trademarks, and calls for the destruction of all material bearing the logo and name of the Rhode Island Southern Sky entity.

“Yesterday’s filing is similar to the bad-faith practice that many small business owners will recognize as ‘patent trolling,’ ” continued McGovern. “SSRE MA has not conducted business in years, has failed to take any steps whatsoever to protect or otherwise continue to use the subject trademark, and is in the process of being judicially dissolved in Massachusetts Superior Court. We will vigorously defend ourselves against this claim and expect to prevail.

“Recently, Southern Sky Renewable Energy (MA) partners illegally tried to remove Ralph A. Palumbo from the company’s board of managers,” added McGovern in an emailed statement. “As this is a direct violation of the management agreement, a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was filed by Mr. Palumbo in a Massachusetts court. We fully expect that the court will honor the management agreement in place, reject the ploy to illegally remove Mr. Palumbo and honor the/his request for judicial dissolution of the company (SSRE-MA). We expect this will render yesterday’s filing in Rhode Island null and void.”

Southern Sky Renewable Energy did not immediately respond to inquiries.

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor. You may reach him at Bergenheim@PBN.com.