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Alliance for Good Government v. Coalition For Better Government

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 21, 2018

ALLIANCE FOR GOOD GOVERNMENT
v.
COALITION FOR BETTER GOVERNMENT

         SECTION: “J” (2)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Alliance for Good Government's (“Alliance”) Motion for Attorney's Fees (Rec. Doc. 61) and Coalition for Better Government's (“Coalition”) related Motion to Strike (Rec. Doc. 64). Both sides were allowed opportunity to file opposition and reply memoranda regarding each of these motions and did so. Having considered the motions, memoranda, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Alliance's motion should be GRANTED and Coalition's motion should be DENIED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This case arises from a trademark dispute between two nonprofit political companies, Alliance and Coalition. Both entities used their marks (“Alliance Marks” and “Coalition Marks, ” respectively) or allowed their marks to be used as an indication of endorsement of a particular political candidate. As Coalition's counsel admitted during oral argument, Alliance is the senior trademark holder to its mark.

         In 2016, Coalition used the Coalition Marks to endorse several political candidates. Alliance filed a complaint alleging among other claims, that Coalition had infringed its trademark under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1114. Coalition responded with its own counterclaim, motion to dismiss, and motion for summary judgment. On October 11, 2017, the Court heard oral argument on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.

         At the hearing the Court ruled from the bench that Plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment for trademark infringement under 15 U.S.C. § 1114. The Court found that despite Coalition's assertions that one mark featured a “hawk” and the other an “eagle, ” the birds that formed the centerpiece of each mark were virtually identical, if not exactly. The Court further found that the only discernable difference in the marks was that “Coalition” was substituted for “Alliance” and that “better” was substituted for “good, ” each being a synonym for the word it replaced. The Court subsequently entered its written judgment granting an injunction against Coalition's use of the Coalition Marks or any other similar marks likely to give rise to confusion and dismissed all other claims.

         Following final judgment, Plaintiff motioned for attorney's fees. Defendant in turn motioned to strike language from Plaintiff's motion and in opposition, requested the Court bifurcate the determination of whether to grant fees from the calculation of amount of fees and requested a hearing to determine the amount in fees through oral testimony.

         PARTIES' ARGUMENTS

         Plaintiff requests sixty-eight thousand two hundred thirty-seven dollars and twenty-five cents ($68, 237.25) in attorney's fees pursuant to section 1117(a) of the Lanham Act. Plaintiff argues that this case meets the bar for “exceptional” in the plain-meaning sense: this case stands out from others. Plaintiff further argues it wins on two independent grounds: the (1) strength of its litigating position against defendant and (2) the unsuccessful party's unreasonable litigation of the case.

         In support of its argument, Plaintiff claims that Coalition unnecessarily expanded the litigation by (1) filing baseless motions to dismiss and (2) counterclaims, (3) motioning for summary judgment without record evidence, (4) issuing redundant subpoenas, and (5) unreasonably refusing to postpone depositions. Alliance further maintains that it had an exceptionally strong case and that Defendant did all of the above not with a reasonable expectation of succeeding on the merits, but instead with the hope of bankrupting Plaintiff with a deluge of court and attorney's fees.

         In support of its accusation, Alliance notes that as a nonprofit its funding was a matter of public record and prior to litigation, its available funds were listed at only $31, 275. Coalition's lead counsel (also its president and director) on the other hand, “earns millions of dollars as a highly successful plaintiff's attorney as well as from significant real estate holdings.” Alliance attached the state court decision that was the basis for this statement regarding Coalition's lead counsel's income to its Motion.

         Coalition takes exception to all of Alliance's accusations, but particularly the quoted language above. Coalition claims that this egregious conduct-Alliance's paraphrasing of the public state court decision-will harm Coalition's lead counsel's reputation by being a part of this matter's public record.

         LEGAL ...


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