SmithGroup sues Pure Architects and regional pediatric hospital over copyright dispute in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Order in the Court

SmithGroup sues Pure Architects and regional pediatric hospital over copyright dispute in Grand Rapids, Michigan

The dispute is over a hospital expansion project in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Courtesy Mary Free Bed)

SmithGroup filed a lawsuit this week in Michigan against Pure Architects, a Grand Rapids– and Detroit-based firm, and Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, a Grand Rapids healthcare institution. The dispute is over an expansion project at the hospital.

The building in question is the Joan Secchia Children’s Rehabilitation Hospital. The future hospital is on Wealthy Street, just across from Mary Free Bed’s Grand Rapids Campus. The $60 million project will feature a pedestrian walkway that connects the two buildings, 24 inpatient rooms, and “sophisticated technology” fit for pediatric services. Construction is due to begin in 2024 and complete in 2026.  

The court filing on March 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan comes after SmithGroup was initially hired by Mary Free Bed to design the expansion project in 2022. Mary Free Bed terminated its contract with SmithGroup in September 2023. Then Mary Free Bed hired Pure Architects for the job in October 2023.

The lawsuit argues that, after Mary Free Bed terminated its architecture agreement with SmithGroup, Mary Free Bed “copied and published derivative works based on SmithGroup’s design without permission,” the court document said, an action which allegedly violates U.S. Copyright Laws. “There is a substantial similarity between SmithGroup’s Registered Works and Pure Architects’ rendering for the Mary Free Bed pediatric rehabilitation expansion,” the document continued. 

In a statement shared with AN, Pure Architects said the “claims against our company are totally without merit.” SmithGroup declined to comment.

SmithGroup Conceptual Rendering (Courtesy U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan)
Conceptual Rendering by Pure Architects (Courtesy Mary Free Bed)

Mary Free Bed first announced its partnership with SmithGroup in December 2022 in a statement on its website. On June 5, 2023, SmithGroup and Mary Free Bed entered into a standard AIA Agreement which set forth the terms and conditions of their contractual obligations. Then between January and September 2023, SmithGroup provided the agreed upon architectural services, as per the contract with Mary Free Bed.

After the design process ended, Mary Free Bed terminated its architecture agreement with SmithGroup on September 8, 2023. Three days later, on September 11, SmithGroup billed Mary Free Bed the amount due for their services prior to the termination and issued a termination fee. 

The document filed in court states that “Mary Free Bed did not agree to pay SmithGroup the Licensing Fee set forth in Section 9.7 of the Architecture Agreement authorizing Mary Free Bed to continue using SmithGroup’s Instruments of Service. Thus, upon Mary Free Bed’s termination of the Architecture Agreement, Mary Free Bed had no right to continue using SmithGroup’s copyrighted Instruments of Service,” the document stated.

In October 2023, one month after terminating the agreement with SmithGroup, Mary Free Bed announced that it had hired Pure Architects to design the expansion project. Shortly after, Pure Architects issued renderings that contained “several elements that are substantially similar to SmithGroup’s Registered Works,” the document continued. “For example, the following SmithGroup rendering provided to Mary Free Bed shows a three-story curved structure positioned on the northwest corner of the parcel, with a pedestrian bridge connected to the third level, substantially similar to the shape, positioning and bridge connection in the Pure Architects Rendering,” the document elaborated. 

Massing Studies by SmithGroup (Courtesy U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan)

The suit claims that the “ribbon window[s] w/fins” [sic] are similar to a window sketch by SmithGroup, and Pure Architects’s stair placement to the right of the ribbon windows is also similar. Lastly, SmithGroup claims that the “rooftop gardens” featured in renderings by Pure Architects are also similar to their own initial design. According to the documents, when asked about the similarities, Mary Free Bed denied it had continued using SmithGroup’s design.

In response, SmithGroup filed a Complaint for Copyright Infringement and Application for Preliminary and Permanent Injunction in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on March 11. 

Conceptual Rendering by Pure Architects (Courtesy Mary Free Bed)

SmithGroup alleges that: “Since at least October 2023, Mary Free Bed and Pure Architects have improperly copied, reproduced, prepared derivative works based upon, and distributed the SmithGroup’s Registered Works without permission.” As such, SmithGroup argues that it is entitled to damages. SmithGroup also said it’s “entitled to remedy of seizure and impounding of all materials used in violation of SmithGroup’s exclusive copyright.” Lastly, SmithGroup argued that potential confusion over the expansion’s authorship could have deleterious financial consequences for the firm, which has offices in Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Pure Architects denied any wrongdoing. The office told AN: “As a Grand Rapids based architectural firm known for its ethical practices and creative abilities, we would never infringe on the work of others. Our design for this project is approximately 40% smaller in scope than the design solution proposed by SmithGroup, while still meeting all of the mandated design criteria required by the client and the authorities having jurisdiction over this project. Any suggestion of infringement on our part is unfounded.”

AN has reached out to Mary Free Bed for comment.

A decision in the case has not yet been reached.