Justia Commercial Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Communications Law
Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC
Next makes office equipment and refers potential customers to reviews that rate its products highly. Next's competitor, Beyond, published reviews critiquing Next’s standing desks. Instead of pursuing a claim under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125, Next sued in federal court under diversity jurisdiction, relying on Wisconsin’s common law of defamation. The district judge treated product reviews and political commentary as equivalent and cited the Constitution, holding that because Next is a “limited-purpose public figure”—made so by its own efforts to sell its wares—all criticism by a competitor is constitutionally protected unless the statements are knowingly false or made with reckless indifference to their truth. The court concluded that the standard was not met. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on other grounds, stating that it was “skeptical” about the trial court’s use of the Constitution. On the district court’s approach, few claims under the Lanham Act ever could succeed, and commercial advertising would be treated just like political campaigning. Next failed to state a claim under Wisconsin law. “Whatever one can say about whether both gray paint and polished metal should be called ‘silver,’ or whether two circuit boards are as good as one, these are not ‘false assertions of specific unfavorable facts.’” View "Next Technologies, Inc. v. Beyond the Office Door LLC" on Justia Law
Louisiana-Pacific Corp. v. James Hardie Building Products, Inc.
Louisiana-Pacific produces “engineered-wood” building siding—wood treated with zinc borate, a preservative that poisons termites; Hardie sells fiber-cement siding. To demonstrate the superiority of its fiber cement, Hardie initiated an advertising campaign called “No Wood Is Good,” proclaiming that customers ought to realize that all wood siding—however “engineered”—is vulnerable to damage by pests. Its marketing materials included digitally-altered images and video of a woodpecker perched in a hole in Louisiana-Pacific’s siding with nearby text boasting both that “Pests Love It,” and that engineered wood is “[s]ubject to damage caused by woodpeckers, termites, and other pests.” Louisiana-Pacific sued Hardie, alleging false advertising, and moved for a preliminary injunction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Louisiana-Pacific failed to show that it would likely succeed in proving the advertisement unambiguously false under the Lanham Act and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. View "Louisiana-Pacific Corp. v. James Hardie Building Products, Inc." on Justia Law
Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman
Businesses challenged New York General Business Law section 518, which provides that “[n]o seller in any sales transaction may impose a surcharge on a holder who elects to use a credit card in lieu of payment by cash, check, or similar means,” as violating the First Amendment by regulating how they communicate their prices, and as unconstitutionally vague. The Second Circuit vacated a judgment in favor of the businesses, reasoning that in the context of singlesticker pricing—where merchants post one price and would like to charge more to customers who pay by credit card—the law required that the sticker price be the same as the price charged to credit card users. In that context, the law regulated a relationship between two prices: conduct, not speech. The Supreme Court vacated, limiting its review to single-sticker pricing. Section 518 regulates speech. It is not a typical price regulation, which simply regulates the amount a store can collect. The law tells merchants nothing about the amount they may collect from a cash or credit card payer, but regulates how sellers may communicate their prices. Section 518 is not vague as applied to the businesses; it bans the single-sticker pricing they wish to employ, and “a plaintiff whose speech is clearly proscribed cannot raise a successful vagueness claim.” View "Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman" on Justia Law
Siding and Insulation Co. v. Alco Vending, Inc.
Alco, a vending machine company, contracted with B2B, a “fax broadcaster,” in 2005, and dealt with B2B and Macaw, a Romanian business, that worked with B2B. Each sample advertisement provided by B2B stated that the message was “the exclusive property of Macaw . . . , which is solely responsible for its contents and destinations.” According to Alco, B2B was to identify recipients from a list of businesses that had consented to receive fax advertising from B2B. Alco never saw this list, but believed that each business would be located near Alco’s Ohio headquarters, and had an existing relationship with B2B, so that the advertising would be “100 percent legal.” B2B broadcast several thousand faxes, advertising Alco. According to Alco, B2B did not inform Alco about the number of faxes, the dates on which they were sent, or the specific businesses to which they were addressed. After each broadcast, Alco received complaints of unauthorized faxes in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C), which it referred to B2B. Siding filed a purported class action against Alco. The district court rejected the suit on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded for determination of whether B2B broadcast the faxes “on behalf of” Alco, considering the degree of control that Alco exercised, whether Alco approved the final content, and the contractual relationship. View "Siding and Insulation Co. v. Alco Vending, Inc." on Justia Law
Havens v. Mobex Network Servs., LLC
An Automated Maritime Telecommunications System (AMTS) is a U.S. communication service between land and vessels in navigable waterways, existing on specific broadcast frequencies. Advances in technology have greatly expanded the potential uses of AMTSs. Under the original site-based system, small geographic regions were defined by location and the waterway served and the FCC provided licenses at no cost to the first applicant. In 2000, the FCC stopped issuing site-based licenses and began issuing licenses by competitive bidding; it divided the U.S. into 10 regions and, at public auctions, sold “geographic” licenses for two blocks of AMTS frequencies in each region. Although geographic licensees may generally place stations anywhere within their region, they may not interfere with the functioning of existing site-based stations, so the location of a site-based station creates a gap in a geographic licensee’s coverage area. Plaintiffs obtained geographic licenses in areas overlaying pre-existing site-based licenses. Site-based operators refused to provide plaintiffs with the operating contours for their site-based locations within plaintiffs’ geographic locations. Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging violation of the Federal Communications Act and the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal of the FCA claims and a determination that no antitrust conspiracy existed. Plaintiffs did not identify particular actions that were determined by the FCC to be unreasonable or unjust and, therefore, do not possess a private right of action. View "Havens v. Mobex Network Servs., LLC" on Justia Law
Sandusky Wellness Ctr., LLC v. Medco Health Solutions, Inc.
Pharmacy benefit manager Medco is an intermediary between health plan sponsors (often employers) and prescription drug companies, enabling plans to offer less expensive prescription drug benefits to their members. Medco keeps an updated list of available medicines (formulary) available and sends that list to prescribers and to plan sponsors so they can keep costs down for members. Sandusky provides chiropractic services and prescribes medications to patients who are members of prescription drug plans contracted with Medco. Medco faxed part of its formulary to Sandusky in June 2010, asking Sandusky to “consider prescribing plan-preferred drugs” to “help lower medication costs. Other than listing Medco’s name and number, the fax did not promote Medco’s services and did not solicit business. Three months later, Medco sent Sandusky another fax that informed Sandusky that a certain respiratory drug brand was preferred over another brand, and could save patients money. Sandusky, on behalf of a proposed class, sued Medco, claiming that the faxes were “unsolicited advertisements” prohibited by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(C). The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Medco, finding that the faxes were not advertisements as a matter of law because their primary purpose was informational rather than promotional. View "Sandusky Wellness Ctr., LLC v. Medco Health Solutions, Inc." on Justia Law
Animal Legal Def. Fund v. LT Napa Partners, LLC
Animal Legal Defense Fund (plaintiff) sued LT and Frank, the head chef at Napa restaurant La Toque, (defendants), alleging defendants sold foie gras in their Napa restaurant in violation of Health and Safety Code 25982. Frank has been a vocal opponent of the 2004 ban on foie gras. After the ban went into effect, plaintiff paid an investigator to dine at La Toque three times; each time he requested foie gras and was told that if he ordered an expensive tasting menu he would receive foie gras. Twice it was described as a “gift” from the chef. He ordered the tasting menus and was served foie gras. He was not told he was served foie gras in protest against the ban and was not provided information about defendants’ opposition to the ban. The city declined to prosecute. Defendants unsuccessfully moved to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure, 425.16. The court of appeal affirmed, construing the term “sold” in Section 25982 to encompass serving foie gras as part of a tasting menu, regardless of whether there is a separate charge, whether it is listed on the menu, and whether it is characterized as a “gift,” plaintiff established a probability of prevailing on its claim. View "Animal Legal Def. Fund v. LT Napa Partners, LLC" on Justia Law
Groupe SEB USA Inc v. Euro Pro Operating, LLC
SEB distributes household products under several brand names, including electric steam irons sold under the Rowenta brand name. Euro-Pro distributes household appliances under the Shark brand name. The Shark packaging states: “MORE POWERFUL STEAM vs. Rowenta®†† at half the price.” The “††”refers to a fine-print footnote on the package’s bottom, stating that the claim is “††[b]ased on independent comparative steam burst testing to Rowenta DW5080 (grams/shot).” The packaging also asserts “#1 MOST POWERFUL STEAM*” with a fine-print reference on the bottom stating it “*[o]ffers more grams per minute (maximum steam setting while bursting before water spots appear) when compared to leading competition in the same price range, at time of printing.” SEB directed its internal laboratory to conduct tests, which showed that the Rowenta performed the same as the Shark. SEB commissioned an independent laboratory to conduct tests, which showed that the Rowenta outperformed the Shark. SEB claimed false advertising under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and unfair competition under Pennsylvania common law. The Third Circuit affirmed entry of an injunction, agreeing that the packaging’s definition of a claim term applies to the claim’s explicit message and that the court properly disregarded consumer survey evidence offering alternative meanings. View "Groupe SEB USA Inc v. Euro Pro Operating, LLC" on Justia Law
Liberty Coins, LLC v. Goodman
The plaintiffs deal in silver and gold jewelry, ingots, numismatics, and other related items. They challenged the facial constitutionality of the Precious Metals Dealers Act, Ohio Rev. Code 4728, alleging violation of the commercial speech rights of businesses dealing in precious metals, vagueness, and violation of the Fourth Amendment by imposing overly burdensome retention, reporting, and record-keeping requirements. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, finding that the Act violated the First Amendment because only those engaged in commercial speech are subject to its licensing requirement. The injunction prohibited the state from requiring licenses or fining those, like plaintiffs, who previously violated the statute. The Sixth Circuit reversed, applying “rational basis” review. The Act does not burden the commercial speech rights of unlicensed precious metals dealers. Such dealers do not have a constitutional right to advertise or operate a business does not comply with reasonable requirements of Ohio law and cannot “hold themselves out” to the public without a license, regardless of whether they advertise. The issue is not advertising, but whether a business holds itself out to the public, which can occur by posting a sign, placing goods in a window, or simply conducting business in a manner that is visible to the public. The court noted the public interest in the statutory scheme .View "Liberty Coins, LLC v. Goodman" on Justia Law
Cogent Solutions Grp, LLC v. Hyalogic, LLC
Cogent sued, alleging that Hyalogic was disseminating false information regarding Cogent’s product Baxyl, an “oral, liquid HA supplement that is sold into the human natural products market.” Shortly after the filing, the parties entered into a settlement agreement. Cogent moved to enforce the settlement agreement, claiming that Hyalogic caused false and misleading videos to be uploaded to You Tube and by statements made at a conference. The district court found no breach of the settlement agreement and denied the motion. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The contract unambiguously refers to a clear statement “about the other Party’s product.” Statements that refer to preservatives that can be found in a number of products, including Cogent’s products, are not statements “about the other Party’s products.” View "Cogent Solutions Grp, LLC v. Hyalogic, LLC" on Justia Law