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JOHN CURRY SKATING CO. v. JOHN CURRY SKATING CO.

October 18, 1985

THE JOHN CURRY SKATING COMPANY, INC., Plaintiff
v.
THE JOHN CURRY SKATING COMPANY a/k/a THE JOHN CURRY SKATERS, et al., Defendants


Thomas F. Hogan, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOGAN

Thomas F. Hogan, United States District Judge

 A temporary restraining order was denied on August 20, 1985 and expedited discovery was ordered by the Court. On September 13, 1985, the Court denied plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction and defendant Kennedy Center's Motion to Accelerate and Consolidate a Hearing on the Merits. This case is presently before the Court on defendants' John Curry and Frozen Assets, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment of the Lanham Act and breach of contract claims, and on defendant Kennedy Center's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment on the same grounds.

 Factual Background

 Defendant John Curry is a well-known ice skating artist, who began his professional skating career after winning the British, European and World titles and the Olympic Gold Medal in Men's Figure Skating in 1976. Curry Affidavit of 9/2/85, para. 14. Curry's professional performances included shows of "balletic ice skating," wherein an ensemble of skaters performed pieces to live orchestra music on specially prepared theater stages. Id. at paras. 15-17. The shows, appearing in England and the United States, were variously named "John Curry's Theatre of Skating" (December, 1976), "John Curry's Theatre of Skating II" (1977), and "John Curry's Ice Dancing" (November 1978 - February 1979). Id. A book entitled John Curry was written by Curry and Keith Money, published in England and the United States in 1978. Id. at para. 17.

 In 1982, John Curry, Elva Clairmont and David Spungen agreed to form an organization that would present and promote the performances of Curry and a balletic ensemble of skaters. Defendant Kennedy Center's Statement of Material Facts as to Which There is No Genuine Dispute (hereinafter Kennedy Center's Undisputed Facts) at para. 1; Clairmont Affidavit of 9/3/85, para. 8. Ms. Clairmont had produced, directed and promoted ice skating shows since 1975, including Pro-Skate, a competitive professional figure skating show in which John Curry had appeared. Clairmont Affidavit of 9/3/85 at para. 7; Curry Affidavit of 9/2/85 at para. 20. David Spungen has also had experience producing figure skating events. Clairmont Affidavit of 9/3/85 at para. 8. In February, 1983, Symphony on Ice, Inc. (hereinafter "Symphony"), plaintiff JCS Company's predecessor in interest, was incorporated in New York to promote and present performances by Curry and a skating ensemble. Kennedy Center's Undisputed Facts para. 2. Symphony executed a contract with Frozen Assets, Inc. on August 19, 1983, for the exclusive rights to Curry's performances and name for three years. Id. at para. 3; Complaint Exhibit A.

 In early 1985, disputes arose among the parties about the management and promotion of the skating company. JCS Company's undisputed debts totaled more than $1.1 million at that time, and the company had been black-listed by the Musician's Union for non-payment. Kennedy Center's Undisputed Facts, paras. 14, 19. In February, 1985, Ms. Clairmont fired the company's booking agent, Columbia Artists Management, Inc., for failing to arrange bookings, and sought engagements and prospects independently, with some success. Kennedy Center's Undisputed Facts para. 16; Plaintiff's Response para. 3. After negotiations between Clairmont, Curry and Spungen failed to resolve their disputes, John Curry resigned from the Board of Directors of JCS Company, Inc. and severed all relationship with the corporation. Kennedy Center's Undisputed Facts para. 21.

 In July, 1985, Curry signed a contract with the Kennedy Center for a skating engagement from August 8-24, 1985. At least eight of the skaters appearing with Curry at the Kennedy Center had performed with the ensemble for JCS Company, and the format and presentation of the show was substantially the same as the shows performed under the auspices of the JCS Company. The skaters appeared under the name "The John Curry Skating Company" and "The John Curry Skaters." Although the show was a critical success, it finished with a net loss of approximately $400,000. Kennedy Center's Undisputed Facts, para. 24. At the time of the hearing, Curry and his skaters had future performances scheduled.

 The plaintiff instituted this action on August 16, 1985, for a determination of rights in the name "The John Curry Skating Company," and under the contract between Symphony and Frozen Assets.

 Discussion

 Plaintiff's claim under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act is based on its asserted rights in the service mark or trade name "The John Curry Skating Company," which allegedly are infringed by performances of Curry and his skaters under the name "The John Curry Skating Company" or "The John Curry Skaters." To establish a claim of unfair competition, the plaintiff must show: (1) that the public associates the mark in question with plaintiff's services and (2) that defendants' actions cause a likelihood of confusion among the relevant class of buyers. E.g., ChiChi's Inc. v. Chi-Mex, Inc., 568 F. Supp. 731, 734 (W.D. Pa. 1983). The law of unfair competition under § 43(a) encompasses a plethora of claims, which may be based on rights in unregistered marks, trade dress and packaging, and personal names. The proof needed to establish a claim varies with each type of mark. It is therefore important to define the specific mark in which plaintiff's rights are asserted before proceeding with analysis under the Lanham Act. Plaintiff claims rights to a trade name comprised of a personal name of a living individual. No one presently employed by or otherwise currently a part of plaintiff's corporation bears this name. Plaintiff and its predecessor first began to use the name "John Curry" in 1983, and only used the name in conjunction with performances featuring John Curry. Additionally, a three-year personal services contract granted plaintiff's predecessor corporation the exclusive right to use the name for the term of the contract. Plaintiff claims rights in the mark based on the contract and on the sums spent advertising and promoting the name.

 Because the mark in question contains a personal name, not plaintiff's own, the plaintiff can only establish the first element of a claim for unfair competition by showing that the mark has acquired "secondary meaning." See, e.g., Scott Paper Co. v. Scott's Liquid Gold, Inc., 589 F.2d 1225, 1228 (3rd Cir. 1978). Secondary meaning exists when the primary meaning of the tradename as identifying an individual is overshadowed in the mind of the consuming public by the origin or quality of the product or service marketed under the name. E.g., Levitt Corp. v. Levitt, 593 F.2d 463, 468 (2d Cir. 1979); Scott Paper Co., 589 F.2d at 1228. Although there is no quantifiable test to determine when secondary meaning is achieved, courts consider as relevant (1) the duration and continuity of use of the mark, (2) the extent of advertising and promotion and amount of money spent thereon and (3) figures showing sales or viewings of plaintiff's product. E.g., American Association for Advancement of Science v. Hearst Corp., 498 F. Supp. 244, 257 (D.D.C. 1980). Plaintiff's use of the mark can date no earlier than February, 1983, when its predecessor Symphony was formed to begin promoting Curry's ...


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