Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse

Decision Date08 July 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 1:14–cv–01043–GBL–IDD.
Citation112 F.Supp.3d 439
Parties PRO–FOOTBALL, INC., Plaintiff, v. Amanda BLACKHORSE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia

Craig Crandall Reilly, Law Office of Craig C. Reilly, Alexandria, VA, for Plaintiff.

Jesse Witten, Jeffrey Joseph Lopez, Adam Scott Kunz, Jennifer Tracey Criss, Patrick Henry Thompson, Tore Thomas Debella, II, Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GERALD BRUCE LEE, District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on two sets of cross-motions for summary judgment. First, Plaintiff Pro–Football, Inc. ("PFI"), Defendants Amanda Blackhorse, Marcus Briggs–Cloud, Phillip Gover, Jillian Pappan, and Courtney Tsotigh ("Blackhorse Defendants"), and the United States of America filed cross-motions for summary judgment on PFI's claims challenging the constitutionality of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act (Counts III–VI) (Docs. 54, 105, and 108). Second, Blackhorse Defendants and PFI filed cross-motions for summary judgment on PFI's claims contesting the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board's ("TTAB") Order cancelling the registrations of six of PFI's trademarks on the grounds that they consisted of matter that "may disparage" Native Americans and bring them into contempt or disrepute, and that the defense of laches does not bar the claims (Counts I, II, and VII) (Docs. 69 and 79). This case concerns Blackhorse Defendants' petition to cancel the registration of six trademarks owned by PFI on the grounds that the marks consisted of matter that "may disparage" a substantial composite of Native Americans and bring them into contempt or disrepute under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), at the time of their registrations (1967, 1974, 1978, and 1990).

There are two issues before the Court. The first issue is whether the Court should grant PFI's Motion for Summary Judgment on Constitutional Claims and deny the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Blackhorse Defendants and the United States of America. PFI makes the following arguments: (1) Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act violates the First Amendment by restricting protected speech, imposing burdens on trademark holders, and conditioning access to federal benefits on restrictions of trademark owners' speech; (2) Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fifth Amendment because it does not provide notice as to which marks "may disparage," it authorizes arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement, and it is impermissibly vague as-applied to PFI; and (3) the TTAB Order violates the Due Process and Takings Clauses of the Fifth Amendment because it deprives PFI of its property without due process and constitutes an unconstitutional taking of PFI's property.

The second issue is whether the Court should grant PFI's Cross–Motion for Summary Judgment on Claims I, II, and VII, and deny Blackhorse Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts I, II, and VII of Complaint where PFI argues that (1) the record does not establish by a preponderance of the evidence that a substantial composite of Native Americans believe that the Redskins Marks consisted of matter that "may disparage" them at the time of their registrations (1967, 1974, 1978, and 1990), and (2) the defense of laches bars Blackhorse Defendants' claims.

The Court DENIES PFI's Motion for Summary Judgment on Constitutional Claims and GRANTS the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Blackhorse Defendants and the United States of America. With regard to PFI's First Amendment challenge, the Court DENIES PFI's Motion for Summary Judgment on Constitutional Claims and GRANTS the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Blackhorse Defendants and the United States of America for two reasons. First, Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act does not implicate the First Amendment. Second, the federal trademark registration program is government speech and is therefore exempt from First Amendment scrutiny.

With regard to PFI's Fifth Amendment challenge, the Court DENIES PFI's Motion for Summary Judgment on Constitutional Claims and GRANTS the cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Blackhorse Defendants and the United States of America for two reasons. First, Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act is not void for vagueness because (1) PFI cannot show that Section 2(a) is unconstitutional in all of its applications; (2) Section 2(a) gives fair warning of what conduct is prohibited; (3) Section 2(a) does not authorize or encourage "arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement"; and (4) Section 2(a) is not impermissibly vague as applied to PFI. Second, the Takings Clause and Due Process Clause claims fail because a trademark registration is not considered property under the Fifth Amendment.

The Court DENIES PFI's Cross–Motion for Summary Judgment on Claims I, II, and VII, and GRANTS Blackhorse Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts I, II, and VII of Complaint. With regard to PFI's "may disparage" claim, the Court DENIES PFI's Cross–Motion for Summary Judgment on Claims I, II, and VII, and GRANTS Blackhorse Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts I, II, and VII of Complaint because the (1) dictionary evidence; (2) literary, scholarly, and media references; and (3) statements of individuals and groups in the referenced group show that the Redskins Marks consisted of matter that "may disparage" a substantial composite of Native Americans during the relevant time period.

With regard to PFI's laches claim, the Court DENIES PFI's Cross–Motion for Summary Judgment on Claims I, II, and VII, and GRANTS Blackhorse Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts I, II, and VII of Complaint for two reasons. First, the "may disparage" claim is not barred by laches because Blackhorse Defendants did not unreasonably delay in petitioning the TTAB. Second, laches does not apply because of the public interest at stake.

BACKGROUND

The "Washington Redskins" are a well-known professional football team. The "Redskins" mark was first used by the "Washington Redskins" National Football League ("NFL") franchise in 1933 when then-owner George Preston Marshall selected the name while the team was located in Boston, Massachusetts. "Redskins" was chosen to distinguish the football team from the Boston Braves professional baseball team.1 (Compl. ¶ 35.) The team has used the name ever since. (Id. 34; Doc. 41 ¶ 34.) The United States Patent and Trademark Office ("PTO") approved and registered the mark in 1967. (Doc. 56 at 1.) Five additional variations of "Redskins" trademarks were approved and registered between 1974 and 1990 (collectively "Redskins Marks"). The registrations of the Redskins Marks have been renewed repeatedly since 1967, with the most recent renewal occurring in 2015.2 (Doc. 51 ¶ 8(a)-(f)). PFI owns, and has always owned, the Redskins Marks. (Id. ) The Redskins Marks are:

1. Registration No. 0836122 (registered September 26, 1967) for the mark THE REDSKINS (stylized), shown below, for "entertainment services—namely, football exhibitions rendered in stadia and through the media of radio and television broadcasts," in Class 41;
2. Registration No. 0978824 (registered February 12, 1974) for the mark WASHINGTON REDSKINS, in typed drawing form, for "entertainment services—namely, presentations of professional football contests," in Class 41;
3. Registration No. 0986668 (registered June 18, 1974) for the mark WASHINGTON REDSKINS and design, shown below, for "entertainment services—namely, presentations of professional football contests," in Class 41;
4. Registration No. 0987127 (registered June 25, 1974) for the mark THE REDSKINS and design, shown below, for "entertainment services—namely, presentations of professional football contests," in Class 41;5. Registration No. 1085092 (registered February 7, 1978) for the mark REDSKINS, in typed drawing form, for "entertainment services—namely, presentations of professional football contests," in Class 41; and
6. Registration No. 1606810 (registered July 17, 1990) for the mark REDSKINETTES, in typed drawing form, for "entertainment services, namely, cheerleaders who perform dance routines at professional football games and exhibitions and other personal appearances," in Class 41.

The Redskins Marks have not evaded controversy. See Walker v. Tex. Div., Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 2239, 2262, 192 L.Ed.2d 274 (2015) (Alito, J., dissenting) (describing the "Washington Redskins" as a controversial team name). For example, in 1971 and 1972, there were a host of newspaper articles detailing opposition to the name "Redskins" by some Native Americans. (Docs. 73–12–73–14; 73–29–73–38.) Similarly, in 1972 Leon Cook, President of the National Congress of American Indians ("NCAI"), among others, met with Edward Bennett Williams, the president of PFI, to explain that the team name was a slur; Williams reported the meeting to the NFL Commissioner the following day. (Doc. 71–3 at 5–6; Doc. 73–24 at 12–14; Doc. 73–25.) Also, a 1972 official game program referenced the controversy surrounding the team's name. (Doc. 72–5 at 6.)

The registrability of the Redskins Marks has been litigated for over two decades. In 1992, Susan Harjo and six other Native Americans filed a petition to cancel the registrations of the Redskins Marks under Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act. Seven years later, the TTAB ruled that the Redskins Marks "may disparage" Native Americans when registered and ordered that the registrations of the marks be cancelled. Harjo v. Pro–Football, Inc., 50 U.S.P.Q.2d 1705, 1999 WL 375907 (T.T.A.B.1999). On appeal, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia reversed the TTAB, holding that (1) the TTAB's finding of disparagement was unsubstantiated, and (2) the doctrine of laches precluded consideration of the case.

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    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Federal Circuit
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2 firm's commentaries
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    • United States
    • University of Georgia School of Law Journal of Intellectual Property Law (FC Access) No. 25-1, 2017
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