Monday, March 18, 2013

Materiality still required even if falsity conceded

Turfgrass Group, Inc. v. Carolina Fresh Farms, Inc., 2013 WL 936750 (D.S.C.)

Plaintiffs sued Carolina for violation of the Plant Variety Protection Act, false advertising under the Lanham Act, and breach of contract arising from their agreement for the sale of a PVPA-certified variety of centipede grass called TifBlair.  Carolina was allowed to sell TifBlair until Turfgrass ended their agreement in 2006; afterwards, according to plaintiffs, Carolina unlawfully continued to sell TifBlair. I’m only going to discuss the Lanham Act claim.

The court declined to grant plaintiffs summary judgment.  The issue was that Carolina continued to use marketing materials describing TifBlair simply by changing the name of the grass to Carolina Green.  Plaintiffs argued that the descriptions in the marketing materials were particular to the properties of TifBlair, causing confusion about the attributes and quality of TifBlair versus Carolina Green.  Carolina admitted that it didn’t develop any new variety of centipede grass and that Carolina Greeen was merely its branding name for common centipede.  This “arguably eliminate[d]” any factual dispute over the falsity of Carolina’s marketing statement that “In 2007 Carolina Fresh is proud to introduce Carolina Green centipede, a new variety developed for improved ...” However, other elements of a Lanham Act violation remained disputed, specifically materiality, deceptiveness (not really clear what that means if this is a literal falsity case), and whether plaintiffs suffered harm.  Also, there was a genuine dispute over whether the language really did describe unique properties of TifBlair.

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