225 U.S. 246 (1912), 235, Creswill v. Grand Lodge Knights of Pythias of Georgia

Docket Nº:No. 235
Citation:225 U.S. 246, 32 S.Ct. 822, 56 L.Ed. 1074
Party Name:Creswill v. Grand Lodge Knights of Pythias of Georgia
Case Date:June 10, 1912
Court:United States Supreme Court

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225 U.S. 246 (1912)

32 S.Ct. 822, 56 L.Ed. 1074



Grand Lodge Knights of Pythias of Georgia

No. 235

United States Supreme Court

June 10, 1912

Argued May 2, 3, 1912



Where defendant sets up the claim that it enjoys right or privilege sought to be enjoined under authority of an act of Congress and the state court denies the right, the judgment is reviewable here under § 237 of the new Judicial Code (§ 709, Rev.Stat.).

Whether persons have a right to be incorporated in a state as a state branch of an organization incorporated in the District of Columbia under an act of Congress is a nonfederal question.

Quaere whether the principles applicable to use of trademarks and tradenames are applicable to the use of names of fraternal organizations having a main organization with branches in the several states.

The doctrine of laches applies to the use of a name of a fraternal corporation, and equity will not grant relief against the use of the name by parties who have been using it for many years without objection at the instance of the older organization, there not appearing to be any fraud or intent to deceive the public.

While this Court does not as a general rule review findings of fact of the state court on writ of error, where a federal right has been denied as a result of a finding of fact and it is contended there is no evidence to support that finding and the evidence is in the record, the resulting question is open for decision, and where a conclusion of law as to a federal right and a finding of fact are so intermingled as to require the facts to be analyzed and dissected so as to pas on the federal question, this Court has power to do so.

In this case, held that:

There was no evidence to support a finding that the defendants below were attempting by their application for incorporation in a state to use the name Knight of Pythias so as to deceive the public and work pecuniary damage to the older organization of that name, the complainant.

The long continued acquiescence of the older organization of the Knights of Pythias in the use of the name by the junior organization prior to the attempt of the latter to have this particular

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state branch incorporated amounted to laches, and under such conditions, equity could not grant relief.

The existence of laches in this case is incompatible with a finding of injury to property and deceit to the public.

133 Ga. 837 reversed.

The facts, which involve the right of two associations to use the name "Knights of Pythias" and to be incorporated thereunder in one of the states, are stated in the opinion.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

A secret fraternal and benevolent order known as the Knights of Pythias was organized as a voluntary association in Washington, District of Columbia, in 1864. Pursuant to the authority conferred by an act of Congress approved May 5, 1870 (16 Stat. 98, c. 80), authorizing the formation of corporations in the District of Columbia,

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the persons composing the Supreme Lodge, the governing body of the order, became incorporated as the Supreme Lodge Knights of Pythias by filing in the proper office the certificate required by the act. Among other things required to be stated in the certificate was the name or title by which the society was to be known in law and the particular business and objects of the society. The statute provided that, upon the filing of the certificate the persons signing and acknowledging the same, and their associates and successors, "shall . . . be a body politic and corporate, by the name and style stated in the certificate. . . ." The life of the corporation thus created, it would seem, expired by limitation in 1890. On June 29, 1894 (28 Stat. 96, c. 119), however, by a special act of Congress, the Supreme Lodge was again made a corporation of the District of Columbia by the name of the Supreme Lodge Knights of Pythias, and still exists as such. Membership in the order is restricted to white males. In addition to a Grand Lodge and subordinate lodges in each state to which it has been extended, the order conducts an insurance branch known as the Endowment Rank and a military branch known as the Uniform Rank. The Grand Lodge of Georgia was instituted by the Supreme Lodge on March 20, 1871.

An order of Knights of Pythias of the same general nature as that above described, consisting of members of the colored race, was established in Mississippi on March 26, 1880. It became a corporation of the District of Columbia on or about October [32 S.Ct. 823] 10, 1889, by virtue of the general incorporation act of Congress of May 5, 1870, already referred to, under the name and style of "The Supreme Lodge Knights of Pythias, North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa." The order was introduced into Georgia in June, 1886, and a Grand Lodge was instituted in that state by the Supreme Lodge on December 15, 1890. The corporation of October 10, 1889,

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was reincorporated December 14, 1903, under the same general law of May 5, 1870, by the name of "Knights of Pythias of North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia." After such reincorporation, on January 15, 1905, the Supreme Lodge issued a new charter to the Grand Lodge of Georgia.

The Supreme Lodge of Knights of Pythias, which, as heretofore stated, was finally incorporated in 1894 by special act of Congress, the Grand Lodge of Georgia, which was subject to its jurisdiction, and the officers of such Grand Lodge were parties complainant in an amended petition in this litigation commenced in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia. The defendants were the officers of the Grand Lodge in Georgia of the other body, who had made application to the court in which this suit was commenced to be incorporated as a domestic corporation of Georgia under the name and style of "The Grand Lodge Knights of Pythias of North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, Jurisdiction of Georgia." The petition filed in the cause recited the organization of the order of the plaintiffs substantially as heretofore stated, and the defendants were alleged to be wrongfully attempting to incorporate under a name which infringed that of plaintiffs' order, and to be unlawfully styling themselves Knights of Pythias, and to be fraudulently using the insignia, emblems, etc., of the plaintiffs' order. The averments of the petition and the amended petition as to damage sustained by the alleged unlawful acts of the defendants and their associates were stated in general terms to constitute a wrong and injury to petitioners and to the membership in Georgia, and to be a fraud upon the public. The relief prayed was, in substance, a permanent injunction enjoining the prosecution of the application for incorporation, and the use by the defendants and the members of the subordinate lodges under their jurisdiction of the name "Knights of

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Pythias" and of other names, insignia, emblems, etc., which would be like or a colorable imitation of those in use by the plaintiffs' order.

By their answer, the defendants put the plaintiffs to proof of the material averments of the petition, set up the origin, growth, and purposes of the order of which they were members, and especially stated that it was confined to the "negro race and the Asiatic races." The incorporation of the order under the general incorporation act of Congress of 1870 was also averred, and the claim was made of lawful right to the use of the names, signs, symbols, emblems, insignia, and the other paraphernalia adopted by the corporation, and the good faith of the corporation and all concerned in the matter was averred. It was further stated that the membership of the order in the United States aggregated 80,747, and in the State of Georgia 11,805, and that there never had been an attempt to confuse the order with that of which the plaintiffs were members, and that no such confusion in fact had ever arisen or could arise, the field of operation of the orders being absolutely different. Laches of the plaintiffs was pleaded in bar of any relief on the ground that the existence of the order and its operations had been publicly known and was matter of common knowledge for many years.

The case came on for hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction, and after hearing the evidence and argument of counsel, the court denied an injunction and quashed a preliminary restraining order. The plaintiffs took the case by a bill of exceptions to the Supreme Court of Georgia. That court, in disposing of it, referred to the fact that the Supreme Lodge of the order represented by plaintiffs was a corporation of the District of Columbia, and that, by amendment of the petition, it had been joined as a plaintiff. It further stated:

That the defendants have been operating and are

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seeking to be incorporated in this state under a name which is claimed to be an infringement of the name of the plaintiff's association, and the question is involved whether and how far the plaintiff, which is a foreign corporation, might be affected by the state's granting a charter to the defendants as a domestic corporation in the name and for the purpose asked, and also whether there is a fraudulent purpose or design to so infringe.

It was next observed that

the presiding judge should have enjoined the defendants from obtaining the charter applied for, so as to preserve the status in respect thereto until, on final jury trial, all of the questions of law and fact can be fully adjudicated.

The court held that error had been committed in refusing to grant an injunction as to the charter applied for, and the "ruling of the chancellor denying the injunction in other matters" was allowed "to stand until the final trial or...

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