Big Dipper, Inc. v. Wells’ Dairy, Inc., No. 05 C 5395, 2006 WL 2711843 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 20, 2006) (Manning, J.).

In this trademark action, Judge Manning denied defendant’s Rule 11 motion without considering it on the merits because defendant failed to comply with Rule 11’s "safe harbor period."  Rule 11(c) requires that before filing a Rule 11 motion, the party serve the motion on its opponent and give the opponent at least 21 days to correct the issues raised in the motion.  Defendant’s Rule 11 motion was also defective because defendant combined its Rule 11 motion with its response to plaintiff’s motion to strike. As the Court noted, a Rule 11 motion must be filed as a separate, standalone motion. 

Defendant had ample opportunity to notify plaintiff of the Rule 11 issue. Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss defendant’s counterclaims.  The counterclaims challenged the validity of plaintiff’s marks.  In response to the counterclaims, plaintiff served defendant a proposed motion to strike them.  Defendant responded to the proposed motion with a faxed letter objecting to the motion and asking plaintiff not to file it, but did not mention Rule 11 in the letter. 

Plaintiff then filed the motion to strike.  Defendant did not file a separate response to plaintiff’s motion, but instead addressed plaintiff’s substantive arguments in its motion to strike and in its reply to plaintiff’s responsive briefing.  The Court held that, in addition to failing to meet the Rule 11(c) safe harbor requirement, defendant’s motion was also defective because it was not filed separate from its response to plaintiff’s underlying motion to strike.

In addition to Rule 11 issues, the Court’s opinion also considered substantive trademark issues.  Specifically, the Court considered whether it lacked jurisdiction over defendant’s invalidity counterclaim because defendant had not exhausted its invalidity challenge within the PTO (defendant had a pending cancellation proceeding before the TTAB).  The Court held that where the unexhausted validity issues are related to a claim with independent federal jurisdiction (in this case, plaintiff’s trademark infringement claims) both the infringement and the validity challenge should be heard together.