743 F.2d 1508 (11th Cir. 1984), 83-3037, Conagra, Inc. v. Singleton

Docket Nº:83-3037.
Citation:743 F.2d 1508
Party Name:224 U.S.P.Q. 552 CONAGRA, INC., a corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Robert C. SINGLETON, an individual, d/b/a SINGLETON SHRIMP BOATS, Singleton Shrimp Boats, Inc., a corporation, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:October 11, 1984
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 1508

743 F.2d 1508 (11th Cir. 1984)

224 U.S.P.Q. 552

CONAGRA, INC., a corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Robert C. SINGLETON, an individual, d/b/a SINGLETON SHRIMP

BOATS, Singleton Shrimp Boats, Inc., a

corporation, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 83-3037.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

October 11, 1984

Page 1509

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1510

Thomas T. Steele, Tampa, Fla., for plaintiff-appellant.

Jeffrey L. Myers, Largo, Fla., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before HILL and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and TUTTLE, Senior Circuit Judge.


This case presents a somewhat unique issue regarding a son's right to use a family name in a business that is unrelated, but similar to the business his father had established. Conagra, Inc. appeals from the district court's ruling on its claim to enjoin the defendants, Singleton Shrimp Boats, Inc. and Robert C. Singleton, 1 from using the Singleton name in the shrimp trade. Conagra, as a successor in interest to the trademark rights of Singleton Packing Corporation, brought the instant action under Sec. 43(a) of the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. Sec. 1125), Florida's common law of unfair competition, and Fla.Stat. Sec. 495.151, which prohibits unfair competition and dilution of an established trade name. The district court granted Conagra partial relief and fashioned an injunction prohibiting the defendants from using labels that were copied from the product labels belonging to Singleton Packing. On this appeal, we consider whether the court's remedy was adequate protection for Conagra's trademark rights in light of the evidence adduced at trial.


Henry C. Singleton, Sr. began selling shrimp over 25 years ago in Tampa, Florida. The business was incorporated as Singleton Packing Corp., which through the years has engaged in procuring, packing, and processing shrimp. Although Singleton Packing sells some unprocessed and unlabeled products to a variety of customers, its primary product line consists of processed seafood products, which it markets either directly to large food service customers or through independent food brokers around the world. In the years preceding this litigation, Singleton Packing achieved annual sales of over $100,000,000 and was spending $400,000 a year on advertising and promotion. It ranks as the largest packer-processor of shrimp in the

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United States. With the exception of its sales of fresh or unprocessed shrimp, all of Singleton Packing's products are distributed with labels prominently displaying the Singleton name.

Conagra, through a subsidiary corporation, acquired the operating assets and business of Singleton Packing from Henry C. Singleton on January 9, 1981. Under the purchase contract, Singleton transferred to Conagra all rights, title, and interest in and to any trademarks, trade names, and good will associated with Singleton Packing.

Singleton Shrimp Boats is a Florida corporation, organized in 1978 with its principal place of business in Pinellas County, Florida, across the Bay from Singleton Packing's headquarters in Tampa. Robert C. Singleton, the individual defendant, is a founder, chief executive, and principal owner of Singleton Shrimp Boats. Robert C. Singleton is also the son of Henry C. Singleton, the founder of Singleton Packing and Conagra's predecessor in interest in that corporation. Singleton Shrimp Boats is engaged in the wholesale and retail marketing of fresh and processed shrimp products in Florida. At the time this litigation began, Singleton Shrimp Boats had annual sales in the area of $2,000,000 a year.

Conagra filed the instant lawsuit in June of 1981, after it had failed to negotiate a settlement regarding the defendant's continued use of the Singleton name. Conagra claimed that the Singleton name, although not registered as a trademark, had acquired secondary meaning among consumers of seafood products, and thus was entitled to protection under the trademark laws. Because the defendants were subsequent users of the name, Conagra sought to prohibit the defendant's prominent display of the name in connection with Singleton Shrimp Boats' business.

Robert C. Singleton defended primarily on the grounds that Henry C. Singleton and Singleton Packing had acquiesced in his use of the Singleton name in connection with his business. He argued to the district court that he had been selling fresh shrimp and shrimp products since 1972, first from a retail outlet under the name Singleton Seafood Center, and later through the defendant corporation. As further proof of acquiescence, Robert C. Singleton argued that his father knew of his activities in the shrimp business and, rather than objecting to his use of the Singleton name, had encouraged the son's business by selling shrimp to Singleton Shrimp Boats under a steadily increasing line of credit.

The district court held that the defendant could continue to use the Singleton name in the shrimp trade. The court first found that the name had not acquired secondary meaning to consumers. Alternatively, it found that Singleton Packing Company had acquiesced in Robert C. Singleton's use of the name in the shrimp trade. Finally, with respect to the labels which Robert C. Singleton admitted copying from Singleton Packing, the district court found that the defendant's use of the copied labels created a likelihood of confusion, and the court enjoined the defendant from using those labels on the processed shrimp products of Singleton Shrimp Boats.


The defendant has not cross-appealed the district court's judgment enjoining use of the copied labels. Thus, we consider only Conagra's claim that the district court's refusal to enjoin the defendant's use of the Singleton name failed to adequately protect Conagra's right to exclusive use of that name in the shrimp trade. Conagra argues that the district court's findings--(1) that the Singleton name had not acquired secondary meaning, and (2) that Singleton Packing had acquiesced in the defendant's use of the name--were clearly erroneous.

We first evaluate the secondary meaning issue and determine that the district court's finding on this issue was contrary to the strong evidence in the record. We further conclude that Conagra established facts that entitled it to greater protection for its exclusive use of the Singleton name than was afforded by the district court's order.

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We next consider the affirmative defense of acquiescence. Because the district court did not specify findings relating to either of the two doctrines argued by the defendant, abandonment or laches leading to equitable estoppel, we look at those doctrines. We conclude that the defendant presented insufficient evidence to carry the burden on the abandonment issue. We also conclude that the laches defense cannot support the defendant's continued use of the Singleton name in connection with the sale of processed shrimp. However, the defendant may have established a laches defense with regard to his use of the Singleton name in connection with the sales of fresh shrimp, and therefore we remand to the district court for further proceedings on this aspect of the laches defense. Accordingly, we leave it to the district court to fashion an appropriate remedy, consistent with its finding on the laches issue, and affording greater protection to Conagra's trademark rights in the Singleton name than was granted in the court's previous order.


A. Conagra Has An Interest in the Singleton Name that Entitles it to Protection Under the Trademark Laws

Our cases have established two elements that Conagra had to prove to merit injunctive relief under Sec. 43(a) of the Lanham Act: 2 (1) that it has trademark rights in the mark or name at issue--i.e., Singleton, see, e.g., Citibank, N.A. v. Citibanc Group, Inc., 724 F.2d 1540, 1545 (11th Cir.1984); and (2) that the defendant adopted a mark or name that was the same, or confusingly similar to the plaintiff's mark, such that there was a likelihood of confusion for consumers as to the proper origin of the goods created by the defendant's use of the Singleton name in his trade. See, e.g., id. at 1547; Jellibeans, Inc. v. Georgia Skating Clubs, Inc., 716 F.2d at 839-46; John H. Harland Co. v. Clarke Checks, Inc., 711 F.2d 966, 981 (11th Cir.1983). 3

1. Conagra's Right to the Singleton Name

With respect to the first element, Conagra's right to the exclusive use of the Singleton name in the shrimp trade, there is no dispute that Conagra purchased the full trademark rights to the name that belonged to Henry C. Singleton and Singleton Packing, whatever those rights might be. Although the Singleton name was not registered, the use of another's unregistered, i.e., common law, trademark "can constitute a violation of [Sec. 43(a) ] where ... 'the alleged unregistered trademarks used by

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the plaintiff are so associated with its goods that the use of the same or similar marks by another company constitutes a [false] representation that its goods came from the same source.' " Boston Professional Hockey Ass'n v. Dallas Cap & Emblem Mfg., Inc., 510 F.2d 1004, 1010 (5th Cir.1975) 4 (quoting Joshua Meier Co. v. Albany Novelty Mfg. Co., 236 F.2d 144, 147 (2d Cir.1956)), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 868, 96 S.Ct. 132, 46 L.Ed.2d 98 (1975). Because Singleton is a surname, the trademark laws protect Singleton Packing's (and thus Conagra's) right to exclusive use of the name only to the extent that the name has acquired "secondary meaning." See Chevron Chemical Co. v. Voluntary Purchasing Groups, 659 F.2d 695, 702 (5th Cir.1981) (the...

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