Scala’s Original Beef & Sausage Co., LLC v. Alvarez d/b/a Michaelangelo Foods, No. 09 C 7353 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 22, 2009 (Dow, J).
Judge Dow denied plaintiff Scala’s motion for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") in this Lanham Act case regarding Scala’s and Scala’s Preferred marks for giardiniera.
Likelihood of Success
Scala’s made a "fairly strong showing" that defendants’ (collectively "Michaelangelo Foods") labels using the marks were likely to cause consumer confusion. Scala’s also met its burden to show some likelihood of success that its trademark license to Michaelangelo Foods was terminable at will, even though the license lacked a termination provision. Finally, Scala’s showed some likelihood of success as to its argument that licensee estoppel barred Michaelangelo Foods’ challenges to Scala’s marks. The Court noted, however, that at the early stages of the litigation it appeared that Michaelangelo Foods might be able to overcome licensee estoppel upon equitable grounds.
Irreparable harm is presumed in trademark cases, and Michaelangelo Foods did not challenge the presumption. Instead, Michaelangelo Foods argued that Scala’s harm was not sufficiently immediate because Scala’s was not selling competing products. But the fact that Scala’s did not make a product, did not eliminate the harm. Scala’s was harmed by not being able to control Michaelangelo Foods’ quality. Additionally, Scala’s was using the marks with other products.
But the Court noted that the facts of this case mitigated the strength of Scala’s irreparable harm. In particular, Scala’s licensed the marks at least in part because Scala’s was unable to consistently pay suppliers or deliver products to its customers. And Michaelangelo Foods took substantial steps to fix those relationships, thereby enhancing the marks’ value.
Balance of Harm
The Court held that Michaelangelo Foods would be harmed by a TRO. A TRO would allow the sale of existing inventory, but individual defendant invested a significant portion of his savings into the business and the business had relatively low profits. A TRO would, therefore, likely do substantial damage to Michaelangelo Foods’ finances. This financial harm combined with Michaelangelo Foods’ efforts to rebuild the marks and the business tipped the balance of harm in Michaelangelo Foods’ favor.
While it was a close call, the Court denied a TRO. In view of the importance of a decision to both parties, the Court set an expedited discovery, briefing and hearing schedule for Scala’s preliminary injunction motion.