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Valley Forge Military Academy Foundation v. Valley Forge Old Guard, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 2, 2014

VALLEY FORGE MILITARY ACADEMY FOUNDATION, ET AL.
v.
VALLEY FORGE OLD GUARD, INC., ET AL

Page 452

For VALLEY FORGE MILITARY ACADEMY FOUNDATION, VALLEY FORGE MILITARY ACADEMY & COLLEGE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION, Plaintiffs: MICHAEL C. PETOCK, LEAD ATTORNEY, MICHAEL F. PETOCK, PETOCK & PETOCK, LLC, VALLEY FORGE, PA.

For VALLEY FORGE OLD GUARD, INC., PETE ROBINSON, ARTHUR HOUSTON, MICHAEL KINSLOW, ALISTAIR CROSBIE, Defendants: DAVID J. SHANNON, MARSHALL DENNEHEY WARNER COLEMAN & GOGGIN, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

OPINION

R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

Page 453

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 4.) For the following reasons, the Motion will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Valley Forge Military Academy Foundation (" Foundation" ), a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation, operates the Valley Forge Military Academy and College (" Academy" ), which includes a college-preparatory boarding school and a two-year college. (Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 1.) The Foundation and Plaintiff Valley Forge Military Academy and College Alumni Association (" Alumni Association" ) are the owner and licensee, respectively, of certain federally-registered and common-law service marks, including " Valley Forge Military Academy," " Valley Forge Military College," " Valley Forge Military Academy & College," " Valley Forge Military Academy & College Alumni Association," and " Valley Forge Experience." ( Id. at ¶ 16.) In addition, the Foundation has acquired significant goodwill and public recognition of marks such as " Lieutenant General Milton G. Baker Founder's Society," " Baker Founder's Society," and " Founder's Society" (collectively the " marks" ). ( Id. at ¶ 54.) Plaintiffs have used these marks to promote their services and to fundraise for the Academy. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 17, 19, 55, 57.)

Defendant Valley Forge Old Guard (" Old Guard" ) is a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation that has been critical of Plaintiffs over the last several years. ( See id. at ¶ 25.) Plaintiffs allege that the Old Guard and its officers, Defendants Pete Robinson, Arthur Houston, Michael Kinslow, and Alistair Crosbie, have unlawfully used Plaintiffs' marks to pass off the Old Guard as the official alumni association of the Academy. ( Id. at ¶ 24.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants use Plaintiffs' marks to solicit funds from parents and alumni through their website, e-mail campaigns, and media releases. ( See id. at Ex. B.) The mission statements of the Old Guard and the Alumni Association are similar.[1]

Page 454

Plaintiffs submit two letters from parents of students at the Academy that evidence actual confusion regarding the distinction between the Old Guard and the Alumni Association. (Compl. Ex. E.)

In response to a cease-and-desist letter sent by Plaintiffs, the Old Guard changed its name from the Valley Forge Old Guard to the Founder's Old Guard. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 46-48.) The Old Guard also changed its website from www.valleyforgeoldguard.org to www.foundersoldguard.org ( id. at ¶ ¶ 48-49), and added a disclaimer that disavowed any affiliation between the Old Guard and the Alumni Association. Notwithstanding these changes, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants continue to unlawfully use their marks and continue to pass themselves off as the official alumni association of the Academy. Plaintiffs take issue with Defendants' used of the term " Founder's" in its new name, specifically claiming " Founder's" has obvious meaning associated with Plaintiffs. ( Id. at ¶ 52.)

Plaintiffs filed a Complaint, which includes federal claims under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § § 1051 et seq., for trademark infringement (Count I), false designation and unfair competition (Count II), dilution (Count III), false advertising (Count IV), and parallel state-law causes of action (Counts V-VII). Defendants now move to dismiss. (Defs.' Mot., ECF No. 4; Defs.' Mem., ECF No. 5.) Plaintiffs responded to Defendants' Motion. (Pls.' Resp.) Defendants have filed a reply. (Defs.' Reply, ECF No. 9.)

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for " failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." " To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A complaint that merely alleges entitlement to relief, without alleging facts that show entitlement, must be dismissed. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). This " 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary elements." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). " A complaint may not be dismissed because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." McTernan v. City of York, 564 F.3d 636, 646 (3d Cir. 2009).

In determining whether dismissal is appropriate, courts use a two-part analysis. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. First, courts separate the factual and legal elements of the claim and accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true. Id. at 210-11. Next, courts determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a " 'plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal 556 U.S. at 679). Given the nature of the two-part analysis, " [d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, ...


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