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Dennis Pierce, Inc. v. Pierce

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

August 17, 2017

DENNIS PIERCE, INC., et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
LETITIA PIERCE, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Keith Starrett UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         For the reasons below, the Court grants in part and denies in part Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [48]. The Court denies the motion as to Plaintiffs' request for a declaratory judgment that they own a valid trademark registration for the disputed logo. The Court grants the motion as to their request for a declaratory judgment that they have not infringed Defendant's trademark rights, and as to Defendant's counterclaim for copyright infringement.

         I. Background

         This is a copyright/trademark case. Plaintiffs Dennis Pierce, Inc. (“DPI”) and Piercon, Inc. have used a particular logo for over two decades - a green block “P” with the shape of a house as the cutout in the “P.” Defendant Letitia Pierce created the logo. Plaintiffs are construction companies in the Hattiesburg, Mississippi area, and Defendant's brother, Dennis Pierce, owns Plaintiffs.

         Defendant was employed by Plaintiffs in the mid-nineties. She had a variety of duties, but she encouraged her brother to incorporate a logo into the business's branding. Defendant eventually left her employment with Plaintiffs. The parties dispute when Defendant created the logo, and they dispute the degree of Dennis Pierce's participation in its creation. Regardless, Plaintiffs used the logo for over twenty years without any trouble. During this time period, the logo was also used in Dennis Pierce's real estate business, Pierce Realty, Inc.

         In January 2015, Dennis Pierce transferred ownership of Pierce Realty to his brother, Darian Pierce. Darian Pierce continued to use the logo after the transfer of ownership. In July 2015, Plaintiffs filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to trademark the logo. In April 2016, Plaintiffs received their USPTO registration of the logo and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Pierce Realty. When Defendant found out that Dennis Pierce had registered the logo with the USPTO, she sent her own cease-and-desist letter to Plaintiffs and demanded that they cancel the trademark registration. She later filed her own application for copyright registration with the United States Copyright Office.

         Plaintiffs filed this declaratory judgment action. They seek a declaratory judgment that they are the rightful owners of the logo, that they are the rightful owners of a valid trademark registration, and that they did not infringe upon any trademark rights of Defendant. Defendant filed a counterclaim for copyright infringement. Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [1], which is ripe for review.

         II. Standard of Review

         Rule 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. “An issue is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010).

         The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

         III. Discussion

         A. Validity of Trademark Registration

         First, the Court will address the parties' arguments concerning the validity of Plaintiffs' trademark registration. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that they are the lawful owners of a valid trademark registration for the logo. They argue that registration of the disputed logo creates a presumption of ownership. In response. ...


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