Piazza’s Seafood World, LLC v. Odom, -- F.3d – (5th Cir. May 4, 2006)
This case involved constitutional challenges to two
Plaintiff sells food, including Chinese-farmed Ictaluridae (catfish) under the trade names “Cajun Boy” and “Cajun Delight.” Though it originally sold mostly
The court of appeals agreed with the district court that Piazza’s use of the “Cajun Boy” and “Cajun Delight” trade names was only potentially misleading, not actually or inherently misleading, because Piazza largely sells its products to wholesalers and it labels its products with their country of origin. Though the state’s interest in preventing deception was substantial, the statute goes further than necessary to serve that interest because there was no actual deception in this case. As a result, the law, as applied to plaintiff, flunks the test set forth in Central Hudson Gas v. Public Service Commission , 447 U.S. 557 (1980), for regulations of commercial speech.
“Potentially misleading”? “Inherently misleading”? If you’re wondering where the Lanham Act or other trademark or consumer protection laws make this distinction – well, you’re not the only one. (Note also that Central Hudson doesn’t make much room for dilution laws – if Louisiana decided that the “Cajun” label was an important property interest of in-state producers, like “Olympic” is an important asset of the USOC, since that’s not an interest in avoiding deception the regulation would be subjected to stringent First Amendment scrutiny.)
The name "Cajun" is misleading, full stop, when applied to non-Louisiana food; contextual information on the package and buyer sophistication may prevent many purchasers from
The name "Cajun" is misleading, full stop, when applied to non-Louisiana food; contextual information on the package and buyer sophistication may prevent many purchasers fromrelying on this misleading name, but it seems unlikely that this is a federally registrable trademark. (There's an apparently unrelated live registration for CAJUN BOY for processed meats by a Louisiana corporation.) Applying a potentially/inherently misleading distinction to federal trademark and false advertising law would, to put it mildly, disrupt many settled doctrines and presumptions.
Relatedly, I take issue with the court’s facile assumption that labeling with country of origin is enough to eliminate the deceptive nature of the name. Do buyers – even institutional buyers – inspect the packaging? (“Chinese” was stamped on each case of catfish, but I’m unclear whether buyers saw the cases before placing orders.) The usual rule – with support in the empirical literature – is that a smaller disclosure can’t correct a false claim in the main part of an ad, though it can sometimes clarify an ambiguous claim. “Cajun” doesn’t seem that ambiguous to me.