Ex-Cincinnati Branch Can't Use NAACP Trademarks

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar

July 15 — Former officials of the Cincinnati branch of the NAACP must stop using the organization's trademarks and hand over control of its property, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled July 9.

The court granted a motion for a temporary restraining order by the national organization, which has been struggling against the former officers of the Cincinnati branch for control of the NAACP's name and property.

The NAACP revoked the Cincinnati Branch charter in late 2014. The NAACP's 2016 national convention is scheduled to be held in Cincinnati.

There has been an ongoing struggle for years between factions of the Cincinnati membership.

In 2014, local Democratic and Republican politicians got involved in the race to elect the next president of the Cincinnati chapter. However, the election was postponed amid disputes over voting procedures and new-member-recruiting tactics.

In late 2014 and early 2015, former chapter President Ishton W. Morton, Second Vice President Lettie P. Reid and member Beverly J. Morton were suspended by the national office and the Cincinnati branch was declared inactive.

In October 2014, the three ejected members formed a new not-for-profit entity under the name “NAACP Cincinnati Branch.”

In December, the so-called Cincinnati Branch sued the national organization over the election brouhaha. NAACP Cincinnati Branch v. Ford, No. A1407241 (Ohio Ct. of Common Pleas, Hamilton Cty., complaint filed Dec. 11, 2014).

The national office filed its own lawsuit in federal court, alleging trademark infringement, trademark dilution and false advertising pursuant to the Lanham Trademark Act of 1946. The claims also included trademark infringement, fraud, tortious interference, conspiracy and conversion of property under Ohio state law.

The national office moved for a temporary restraining order to immediately stop the breakaway group from using the “NAACP” name and the local chapter's property and funds.

The court found that the national organization had legitimate rights in the “NAACP” trademark and that “confusion is inevitable” resulting from the use of the term by the breakaway chapter.

There was also evidence of actual confusion between the NAACP and the breakaway members, the court found, including with respect to fund-raising solicitations.

The breakaway group was thus barred from using the NAACP's trademarks and from using the organization's property or funds.

The court's ruling was issued by Judge Susan J. Dlott. The national office of the NAACP was represented by Trotter Law LLC, Cincinnati. The breakaway Cincinnati group represented itself.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at amazumdar@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Dutra in Washington at adutra@bna.com

Text is available at: http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/NAACP_Natl_Office_v_NAACP_Cincinnati_Branch_No_Case_Number_115cv0