Justia Antitrust & Trade Regulation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Competing trade associations offered memberships to home inspectors, who typically inspect homes prior to home sales. Benefits of membership in the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) included online advertising to home buyers, educational resources, online training, and free services such as logo design. From 2015 to 2020, ASHI featured the slogan “American Society of Home Inspectors. Educated. Tested. Verified. Certified” on its website. Contending that tagline mislead consumers, InterNACHI sued ASHI under the federal Lanham Act, claiming the line constituted false advertising because it inaccurately portrayed ASHI’s entire membership as being educated, tested, verified, and certified, even though its membership includes so-called “novice” inspectors who had yet to complete training or become certified. InterNACHI argued this misleading advertising and ASHI’s willingness to promote novice inspectors to the public caused InterNACHI to lose potential members and dues revenues. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ASHI, concluding no reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s allegedly false commercial advertising. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred: because InterNACHI did not present any evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s slogan, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for ASHI. View "Examination Board, et al. v. International Association, et al." on Justia Law

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Bimbo Bakeries USA, Inc. (“Bimbo Bakeries”) owned, baked, and sold Grandma Sycamore’s Home-Maid Bread (“Grandma Sycamore’s”). Bimbo Bakeries alleged that United States Bakery (“U.S. Bakery”), a competitor, and Leland Sycamore (“Leland”), the baker who developed the Grandma Sycamore’s recipe, misappropriated its trade secret for making Grandma Sycamore’s. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of U.S. Bakery on a trade dress infringement claim. The parties went to trial on the other two claims, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Bimbo Bakeries on both. After the trial, the district court denied U.S. Bakery’s and Leland’s renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law on the trade secrets misappropriation and false advertising claims. The district court did, however, remit the jury’s damages award. All parties appealed. Bimbo Bakeries argued the district court should not have granted U.S. Bakery summary judgment on its trade dress infringement claim and should not have remitted damages for the false advertising claim. U.S. Bakery and Leland argued the district court should have granted their renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, and Leland made additional arguments related to his personal liability. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings because the Court found all of Bimbo Bakeries’ claims failed as a matter of law. View "Bimbo Bakeries USA, et al. v. Sycamore, et al." on Justia Law

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David Efron and Efron Dorado SE (collectively, "Efron") appealed a civil contempt order entered by the district court for violating its preliminary injunction. This litigation began when the Federal Trade Commission and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection filed a complaint in the federal district court against Zurixx, LLC and related entities. The complaint alleged Zurixx marketed and sold deceptive real-estate investment products. The district court entered a stipulated preliminary injunction, enjoining Zurixx from continuing its business activities and freezing its assets wherever located. The injunction also directed any person or business with actual knowledge of the injunction to preserve any of Zurixx’s assets in its possession, and it prohibited any such person or business from transferring those assets. A week later, the receiver filed a copy of the complaint and injunction in federal court in Puerto Rico, where Zurixx leased office space from Efron. The office contained Zurixx’s computers, furniture, and other assets. The receiver also notified Efron of the receivership and gave him actual notice of the injunction. Although Efron at first allowed the receiver access to the office to recover computers and files, he later denied access to remove the remaining assets and initiated eviction proceedings against Zurixx in a Puerto Rico court. Given these events, the receiver moved the district court in Utah for an order holding Efron in contempt of court for violating the injunction. In response, Efron claimed the assets belonged to him under his lease agreement with Zurixx. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal determined the contempt order was a non-final decision. It therefore dismissed this appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Federal Trade Commission, et al. v. Zurixx, et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal grew out of a dispute over a program (“The Trial Lawyers College”) to train trial lawyers. The College’s board of directors splintered into two factions, known as the “Spence Group” and the “Sloan Group.” The two groups sued each other: The Spence Group sued in state court for dissolution of the College and a declaratory judgment recognizing the Spence Group’s control of the Board; the Sloan Group then sued in federal court, claiming trademark infringement under the Lanham Act. Both groups sought relief in the federal case. The federal district court decided both requests in favor of the Sloan Group: The court denied the Spence Group’s request for a stay and granted the Sloan Group’s request for a preliminary injunction. The Spence Group appealed both rulings. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined it lacked jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of a stay. After the Spence Group appealed the federal district court’s ruling, the state court resolved the dispute over Board control. So this part of the requested stay became moot. The remainder of the federal district court’s ruling on a stay did not constitute a reviewable final order. The Court determined it had jurisdiction to review the grant of a preliminary injunction. In granting the preliminary injunction, the district court found irreparable injury, restricting what the Spence Group could say about its own training program and ordering removal of sculptures bearing the College’s logo. The Spence Group challenged the finding of irreparable harm, the scope of the preliminary injunction, and the consideration of additional evidence after the evidentiary hearing. In the Tenth Circuit's view, the district court had the discretion to consider the new evidence and grant a preliminary injunction. "But the court went too far by requiring the Spence Group to remove the sculptures." View "Trial Lawyers College v. Gerry Spences Trial Lawyers, et al." on Justia Law

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Hetronic International, Inc., a U.S. company, manufactured radio remote controls, the kind used to remotely operate heavy-duty construction equipment. Defendants, none of whom were U.S. citizens, distributed Hetronic’s products, mostly in Europe. After about a ten-year relationship, one of Defendants’ employees stumbled across an old research-and-development agreement between the parties. Embracing a “creative legal interpretation” of the agreement endorsed by Defendants’ lawyers, Defendants concluded that they owned the rights to Hetronic’s trademarks and other intellectual property. Defendants then began manufacturing their own products—identical to Hetronic’s—and selling them under the Hetronic brand, mostly in Europe. Hetronic terminated the parties’ distribution agreements, but that didn’t stop Defendants from making tens of millions of dollars selling their copycat products. Hetronic asserted numerous claims against Defendants, but the issue presented on appeal to the Tenth Circuit centered on its trademark claims under the Lanham Act. A jury awarded Hetronic over $100 million in damages, most of which related to Defendants’ trademark infringement. Then on Hetronic’s motion, the district court entered a worldwide injunction barring Defendants from selling their infringing products. Defendants ignored the injunction. In the district court and before the Tenth Circuit, Defendants focused on one defense in particular: Though they accepted that the Lanham Act could sometimes apply extraterritorially, they insisted the Act’s reach didn’t extend to their conduct, which generally involved foreign defendants making sales to foreign consumers. Reviewing this matter as one of first impression in the Tenth Circuit, and after considering the Supreme Court’s lone decision on the issue and persuasive authority from other circuits, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court properly applied the Lanham Act to Defendants’ conduct. But the Court narrowed the district court’s expansive injunction. Affirming in part, and reversing in part, the Court remanded the case for further consideration. View "Hetronic International v. Hetronic Germany GmbH, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2005, Appellee Reorganized FLI, Inc.1 (“Farmland”) brought an action against Appellants alleging violations of the Kansas Restraint of Trade Act (“KRTA”). Farmland sought, amongst other things, full consideration damages pursuant to Kan. Stat. Ann. section 50-115. In 2019, Appellants moved for summary judgment on Farmland’s claims, arguing the repeal of section 50-115 operated retroactively to preclude Farmland from obtaining any relief. The Kansas District Court denied the motion for summary judgment but granted Appellants’ motion for leave to file an interlocutory appeal with the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Appellants sought reversal of the district court’s denial of summary judgment and a ruling ordering the district court to enter judgment in their favor. After review, for reasons different from the district court, the Tenth Circuit concluded 50-115 applied retroactively to foreclose Farmland from recovering full consideration damages, Farmland was entitled to other relief if it prevailed on the merits of its claims. Thus, the repeal of 50-115 did not leave Farmland without a remedy and Appellants were not entitled to summary judgment. View "Reorganized FLI v. Williams Companies" on Justia Law

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After years of litigation, Plaintiff-Appellant Derma Pen, LLC (“Derma Pen”) was granted a permanent injunction against Stene Marshall and three related corporations that he had formed. Shortly thereafter, Derma Pen moved for a contempt order against Marshall, alleging that he had violated the injunction. Derma Pen also sought a contempt order against Marshall’s brother and sister- in-law, Joel and Sasha Marshall, and DP Derm, LLC, a corporation Joel and Sasha owned (collectively, the “Related Parties”). Movant-Appellant Derma Pen IP Holdings LLC (“DPIPH”), Derma Pen’s successor in interest, joined Derma Pen’s motion shortly before the contempt hearing. In its motion, Derma Pen asserted that the Related Parties had acted in concert with Marshall to violate the injunction. The Related Parties prevailed in the contempt proceeding and subsequently moved for attorney’s fees under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1117(a). The court granted the motion for fees, and Derma Pen and DPIPH appealed that award. The Tenth Circuit found that in its award of attorney’s fees to the Related Parties, the trial court relied upon a statutory provision in the Patent Act as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Octane Fitness, LLC v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc., 572 U.S. 545 (2014). The issue presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review was whether the term “exceptional case” in the Patent Act differed in meaning from the same term used in the Lanham Act to a degree that required reversal. The Court concluded the exceptional case standard in the Lanham Act paralleled the standard in the Patent Act and affirmed. View "Derma Pen, LLC v. 4EverYoung Limited" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Erik Underwood and My24HourNews.Com, Inc. owned two putative service marks: “E.R.I.C.A.” and “my24erica.com.” Underwood claimed to have used these marks in his business, which offered internet-based search engine and personal assistant services. Bank of America Corporation (“BofA”) owned a registered federal trademark for a mobile banking application known as “ERICA.” Underwood sued BofA for infringing his marks. BofA counterclaimed to cancel Underwood’s Georgia registration of his E.R.I.C.A. mark. The district court granted BofA’s motions for summary judgment on its cancellation counterclaim and on Underwood’s infringement claims. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. On BofA’s cancellation counterclaim, the Court affirmed summary judgment against Underwood. On Underwood’s infringement claims, the Court: (1) vacated summary judgment for BofA on the E.R.I.C.A. mark and remanded for the district court to apply the correct actual use standard; and (2) affirmed summary judgment for BofA on the my24erica.com mark. View "Underwood v. Bank of America Corporation" on Justia Law

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Since 2007, EC Design, LLC, sold its popular personal organizer, the LifePlanner. In 2015, Craft Smith, Inc., wanting to enter the personal-organizer market, reached out to EC Design about a possible collaboration. EC Design and Craft Smith couldn't agree to a collaboration. Craft Smith, with input from Michaels Stores, Inc., designed and developed a personal organizer to sell in Michaels stores, leading to this action in Utah federal district court. EC Design claims the Craft Smith and Michaels product infringed on the LifePlanner’s registered compilation copyright and unregistered trade dress. The district court disagreed, granting summary judgment in favor of Craft Smith and Michaels (collectively, the Appellees) on both issues. On the copyright issue, the district court concluded that EC Design did not own a valid copyright in its asserted LifePlanner compilation. On trade dress, the district court held that EC Design had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact over whether the LifePlanner’s trade dress had acquired secondary meaning. Though the Tenth Circuit disagreed with how the district court framed the copyright issue, the Tenth Circuit affirmed because no reasonable juror could conclude that the allegedly infringing aspects of Appellees’ organizer were substantially similar to the protected expression in the LifePlanner compilation. With respect to the trade dress issue, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court: EC Design had failed to create a genuine issue of material fact over whether the LifePlanner’s trade dress had acquired secondary meaning. Summary judgment as to both claims was affirmed. View "Craft Smith v. EC Design" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, Steve Strauss, brought claims against Defendant, Angie’s List, Inc., alleging violations of the Lanham Act. Strauss owned a tree trimming/removal business called Classic Tree Care (“Classic”). Defendant Angie’s List was an internet-based consumer ratings forum on which fee-paying members could view and share reviews of local businesses. According to Strauss, the membership agreement between Angie’s List and its members lead members to believe that businesses were ranked by Angie’s List according to unedited consumer commentaries and endorsements when, in reality, the order in which businesses were ranked was actually based on the amount of advertising the business bought from Angie’s List. He alleged businesses were told they will be ranked more favorably on the website if they paid advertising and referral fees to Angie’s List. According to Strauss, from 2005 to 2016 he paid $200,000 in advertising services fees and coupon retention percentages to Angie’s List “in an effort to appear higher” in search results. The business relationship between Strauss and Angie’s List, however, began to sour in 2013. Strauss alleged he failed to appear in search results for a three-month period and then was “buried” in search-result listings even though he had numerous favorable reviews and a high rating from consumers. In September 2017, Strauss filed a putative class action lawsuit against Angie’s List, raising allegations that Angie’s List engaged in false advertising in violation of section 45(a) of the Lanham Act, as well as the Kansas Consumer Protection Act (KCPA). Strauss appealed when the district court dismissed his complaint on the basis that it failed to identify any statements made by Angie’s List that qualified as commercial advertising or promotion within the meaning of the Lanham Act’s false advertising provision. Strauss contended the district court erred by analyzing his claims under the test adopted by the Tenth Circuit in Proctor & Gamble Co. v. Haugen, 222 F.3d 1262 (10th Cir. 2000) (adopting a four-part test for determining what constitutes commercial advertising or promotion). Finding no reversible error, however, the Tenth Circuit affirmed dismissal of Strauss’ case. View "Strauss v. Angie's List" on Justia Law