University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Pro-Football, Inc. v. Blackhorse et al FA-VA-0003
Docket / Court 1:14-cv-01043 ( E.D. Va. )
State/Territory Virginia
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Case Summary
Prior to this case, five Native American petitioners brought a administrative complaint seeking the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’s (Pro-Football) trademarks containing the word “Redskins” because, they said, the word disparaged Native Americans and violated Section 2(a) of the ... read more >
Prior to this case, five Native American petitioners brought a administrative complaint seeking the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’s (Pro-Football) trademarks containing the word “Redskins” because, they said, the word disparaged Native Americans and violated Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1520(a). The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“TTAB”) ruled in the petitioners’ favor and cancelled six federal trademark registrations containing the word “Redskin” as connected to the Washington D.C. professional football team, on the ground that these trademarks “may disparage” Native Americans.

On August 14, 2014, Pro Football, owner and operator of the Washington Redskins football club, filed this complaint appealing the administrative outcome in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiff also sought declaratory relief. More specifically, the plaintiff asked the court to declare that: Pro-football had not disparaged Native Americans; Pro-Football had not brought contempt or disrepute to Native Americans; if there was a violation of the Lanham Act, then Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act violated the First Amendment; the Act was void for vagueness; and the Act violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment; TTAB’s order violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment; the defendants were barred by the doctrine of laches (meaning that the defendants waited too long to bring the administrative complaint, and therefore the defendants’ petition should have been void).

On September 14, 2014, the plaintiff served a notice of their constitutional challenges on the United States. The notice argued that section 2(a) of the Lanham Act violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment. In response, on January 9, 2015, the U.S. answered the plaintiff’s challenge and gave the court notice that the U.S. would intervene as a defendant. Shortly afterward, the United States became an interested party and defendant in the lawsuit.

All parties involved proceeded to move for summary judgment and cross summary judgment for various claims. On February 23, 2015, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on the constitutional claims of the Lanham Act. On February 26, 2015, the defendants also moved for summary judgment to dismiss some of the plaintiff’s claims. These claims were count one (TTAB erred in ruling that the trademarks “may disparage” Native Americans), count two (TTAB erred in ruling that the trademarks may bring Native Americans into “contempt or disrepute,” and count seven (the plaintiff’s laches claim).

On March 23, 2015, the United States moved for summary judgment in defense of the constitutionality of the statute. The United States argument was that Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1520(a) did not violate the First or the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

On July 8, 2015, the court denied the plaintiff’s motions for summary judgment. 112 F.Supp.3d 439. The court, however, granted the individual defendants’ motion for partial summary judgment and granted the United States’ motion for summary judgment in defense of the constitutional claims.

Plaintiffs appealed. On January 18, 2018, the Fourth Circuit vacated the district court opinion and remanded. The per curiam appellate decision noted that while this appeal was pending, the Supreme Court in Matal v. Tam, 137 S. Ct. 1744, determined that §1052(a) violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. Therefore, here, the district court’s decision was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with Matal v. Tam.

In response, the district court in turn on March 20, 2018, remanded the matter to the TTAB for further proceedings consistent with Matal v. Tam. This court case is closed; the administrative matter is pending.

Sean Whetstone - 06/05/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Takings
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
Plaintiff Type
Closely-held (for profit) corporation
Race
American Indian/Alaskan Native
Type of Facility
Non-government for profit
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Several Native American administrative petitioners
United States
Plaintiff Description Plaintiff Pro-Football, Inc. owns and operates the Washington Redskins football club
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Trademark cancellation is vacated.
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 2018 - 2018
Case Closing Year 2018
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
Cancellation No. 92046185 (E.D. Va.)
FA-VA-0003-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/20/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Petition for Cancellation
FA-VA-0003-0002.pdf | External Link | Detail
Date: 08/11/2006
Opinion (2014 WL 2757516)
FA-VA-0003-0001.pdf | WESTLAW | External Link | Detail
Date: 06/18/2014
Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-VA-0003-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 08/14/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss and Memorandum in Support [ECF# 18]
FA-VA-0003-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 09/22/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 40] (62 F.Supp.3d 498) (E.D. Va.)
FA-VA-0003-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/25/2014
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Notice of Intervention by the United States of America to Defend the Constitutionality of a Federal Statute [ECF# 46]
FA-VA-0003-0010.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/09/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Pro-Football, Inc.'s Motion for Summary Judgment on Constitutional Claims III-VI [ECF# 54]
FA-VA-0003-0011.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/23/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Pro-Football, Inc.'s Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment on Constitutional Claims III-VI [ECF# 56]
FA-VA-0003-0012.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/23/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Counts 1,2, and 7 [ECF# 69]
FA-VA-0003-0013.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/26/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Their Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Counts 1, 2, and 7 [ECF# 71]
FA-VA-0003-0014.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/26/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Pro-Football, Inc.'s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on Claims I, II, and VII [ECF# 79]
FA-VA-0003-0015.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/19/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Counts 3 Through 6 [ECF# 105]
FA-VA-0003-0016.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/23/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
United States' Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support [ECF# 108]
FA-VA-0003-0017.pdf | Detail
Date: 03/23/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum Opinion and Order [ECF# 161] (112 F.Supp.3d 439) (E.D. Va.)
FA-VA-0003-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/08/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Per Curiam [opinion] [ECF# 171] (E.D. Va.)
FA-VA-0003-0019.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/18/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Davis, Ivan D. Court not on record [Magistrate]
FA-VA-0003-9000
Kuhlke, Karen Court not on record
FA-VA-0003-0001
Lee, Gerald Bruce (E.D. Va.)
FA-VA-0003-0005 | FA-VA-0003-0006
O'Grady, Liam (E.D. Va.)
FA-VA-0003-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Anten, Todd (New York)
FA-VA-0003-0011 | FA-VA-0003-0012 | FA-VA-0003-0015
Bishop, Jennifer Deanne (New York)
FA-VA-0003-0011 | FA-VA-0003-0012 | FA-VA-0003-0015
Carroll, Amy E (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0002
Mause, Phillip J (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0002
Raskopf, Robert L. (New York)
FA-VA-0003-0003 | FA-VA-0003-0011 | FA-VA-0003-0012 | FA-VA-0003-0015
Reilly, Craig C. (Virginia)
FA-VA-0003-0003 | FA-VA-0003-0011 | FA-VA-0003-0012 | FA-VA-0003-0015 | FA-VA-0003-9000
Rose, Jessica A. (New York)
FA-VA-0003-0011 | FA-VA-0003-0012 | FA-VA-0003-0015
Defendant's Lawyers Bogdanos, Claudia (New York)
FA-VA-0003-0003 | FA-VA-0003-0011 | FA-VA-0003-0012 | FA-VA-0003-0015 | FA-VA-0003-9000
Criss, Jennifer (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0004 | FA-VA-0003-0013 | FA-VA-0003-0014 | FA-VA-0003-0016 | FA-VA-0003-9000
DeBella, Tore T. (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0004 | FA-VA-0003-0013 | FA-VA-0003-0014 | FA-VA-0003-0016 | FA-VA-0003-9000
Kunz, Adam Scott (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0004 | FA-VA-0003-0013 | FA-VA-0003-0014 | FA-VA-0003-0016 | FA-VA-0003-9000
Lopez, Jeffrey J. (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0004 | FA-VA-0003-0013 | FA-VA-0003-0014 | FA-VA-0003-0016 | FA-VA-0003-9000
Thompson, Paul Michael (Virginia)
FA-VA-0003-9000
Witten, Jesse A (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0004 | FA-VA-0003-0013 | FA-VA-0003-0014 | FA-VA-0003-0016
Other Lawyers Barghaan, Dennis C. (Virginia)
FA-VA-0003-0010 | FA-VA-0003-0017 | FA-VA-0003-9000
Boente, Dana J. (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0010 | FA-VA-0003-0017
Branda, Joyce R. (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0010
Glenberg, Rebecca (Virginia)
FA-VA-0003-9000
Goldberg, Arthur Robert (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0010
Griffiths, John R. (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0010 | FA-VA-0003-0010 | FA-VA-0003-0017
Mizer, Benjamin C. (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0017
Soskin, Eric J. (District of Columbia)
FA-VA-0003-0010 | FA-VA-0003-0017

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