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Parks, LLC v. Tyson Foods, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 28, 2015

PARKS, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
TYSON FOODS, INC.; HILLSHIRE BRANDS COMPANY, Defendants.

Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction, ECF No. 5 - Denied

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. Background and Procedural History

Plaintiff is Parks, LLC, a seller of sausages and other processed meat products, which traces its origins to the H.G. Parks Sausage Company. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 15, ECF No. 4. The Parks Sausage Company, founded in Maryland in 1950, sold its products under the name “Parks.” Id. ¶ 16. Taken public in 1969, Parks Sausage Company became known as the first African-American-owned company to be publicly traded on a U.S. stock exchange and for its radio and television advertisements that contained “a distinctive plea in the voice of a child for ‘more Parks’ sausages Mom.’” Id. ¶ 15.

However, fame does not assure commercial success, and by 1995 the Parks Sausage Company had declared bankruptcy. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff is Parks Sausage Company’s successor, having acquired the defunct company’s assets in 1996. Id. ¶ 18. Initially, Plaintiff attempted to carry on with the manufacture and sale of processed meat products, but later contracted the tasks of producing, marketing, and selling the products through a license agreement with Dietz & Watson, Inc., another producer of processed meat products. Id. ¶¶ 19-20.

Plaintiff has also licensed the use of the “Parks” name to Super Bakery Inc., which “specializes in nutrition-oriented foods for schoolchildren and sells food products to the armed services.” Id. ¶¶ 18, 20. Super Bakery markets and sells processed meat products under the Parks name, primarily to the “United States military and other institutions for distribution throughout the United States.” Id. ¶ 20.[1] Super Bakery is related to Plaintiff by more than a licensing agreement: the two entities are owned by the same individuals who formed the Plaintiff entity in 1996 to purchase the assets of the bankrupt Parks Sausage Company, and they continue to own both companies to this day. Id. ¶ 18.

Defendants are Tyson Foods, Inc. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Hillshire Brands Company, both sellers of processed meat products. Id. ¶¶ 9-10, 22-29. Tyson is a large presence in this market-an “overwhelmingly larger business entity” than Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 43-46. Through Tyson’s acquisition of Hillshire, Tyson came to possess the “Ball Park” trademark, which has been used to sell frankfurters[2] for over fifty years. Id. ¶¶ 27, 30-31, 33.

In 2014, Hillshire launched a new line of frankfurters[3] under the name “Park’s Finest, ” and it is this new product that brings the parties before the Court. Id. ¶ 33. According to Plaintiff, the “Parks” name and the “Ball Park” trademark were able to peacefully coexist for over fifty years, but Hillshire’s choice to name its new product “Park’s Finest” constitutes, among other things, false advertising. Id. ¶¶ 30-31. Plaintiff, Parks, claims that by Hillshire’s use of this name for the new Hillshire frankfurters, Defendants are representing “that they are selling Parks’ finest products, ” and thereby engaging in various forms of false advertising and trademark infringement in violation of federal and state law. Id. ¶¶ 37-38, 50-81.

The new frankfurters appear in a package that features the name “Park’s Finest” prominently displayed in a capitalized, sans-serif typeface, with the word “Park’s” located on a separate line directly above the word “Finest.” Id. ¶ 33. The two words are set in a justified alignment, and together they form a large, rectangular-shaped word mark. Id. Superimposed on the center of, and partially obscuring, the “Park’s Finest” text is Defendants’ “Ball Park” trademark-the mark that appears on Defendants’ Ball Park-branded frankfurters. Id. The new Park’s Finest name and the Ball Park brand are also used together in the radio and television advertisements Defendants created, which describe the product as “Park’s Finest from Ball Park.” Id. ¶¶ 34-36.

Plaintiff claims that Defendants’ misleading presentation of the Park’s Finest frankfurters cuts deeper than the product’s name. Plaintiff also points to an image that appears on the front of the package of the product, which appears to depict a cross-sectional view of the inside of a single Park’s Finest frankfurter that has been sliced diagonally. See id. ¶ 33; Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Prelim. Inj. 4, ECF No. 5-1. According to Plaintiff, this image shows “what appears to be a sausage link, ” rather than a frankfurter. Am. Compl. ¶ 33; see Caputo Decl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 5-3. Because Plaintiff (and its predecessor, the Parks Sausage Company) is primarily associated with sausage products, this image-combined with the name Hillshire chose for its new frankfurters-leads to an inescapable conclusion: Defendants “are marketing and selling their product as PARK’S FINEST sausages.” See id. ¶¶ 15-16, 39, 42; Pl.’s Mem. 6, 13.

Plaintiff initiated this action on February 24, 2015.[4] Plaintiff claims that Defendants: (1) made false or misleading statements of fact in violation of the Lanham Act, specifically in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1125; (2) made false or misleading statements related to the origin of the Park’s Finest product, also in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a); (3) used Plaintiff’s mark in a manner likely to cause dilution of Plaintiff’s mark, entitling Plaintiff to injunctive relief pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c); (4) engaged in violations of unspecified sections of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, 73 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 201-1 to 201-9.3; (5) engaged in trademark dilution in violation of 54 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1124; and (6) engaged in unfair competition in violation of state law. See id. ¶¶ 50-81. Approximately one month later, Plaintiff filed the present Motion, seeking a preliminary injunction that would enjoin Defendants from “identifying products as PARK’S FINEST on labels or in other advertising” pending the final resolution of this action. Pl.’s Mot. Prelim. Inj. 2, ECF No. 5. For the purpose of this Motion, Plaintiff relies solely on its claim that Defendants are engaging in false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act. See id. ¶ 6; Pl.’s Mem. 8-9; Pl.’s Reply 4.

II. Legal Standard – Motions for Preliminary Injunctions

To prevail on a motion for a preliminary injunction, the moving party must show: (1) a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a likelihood of suffering irreparable harm without the injunction; (3) the “balance of equities” weighs in the moving party’s favor; and (4) the public interest favors the injunction. See Groupe SEB USA, Inc. v. Euro-Pro Operating LLC, 774 F.3d 192, 197 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008)). The moving party bears the burden of showing that each of these four factors tips in its favor. Ferring Pharm., Inc. v. Watson Pharm., Inc., 765 F.3d 205, 210 (3d Cir. 2014) (“The ‘failure to establish any element . . . renders a preliminary injunction inappropriate.’” (quoting NutraSweet Co. v. Vit-Mar Enters., Inc., 176 F.3d 151, 153 (3d Cir. 1999))). A preliminary injunction is an “extraordinary remedy never awarded as a matter of right” that is reserved for “limited circumstances.” See Group SEB, 774 F.3d at 197 (quoting Winter, 555 U.S. at 24); Kos Pharm., Inc. v. Andrx Corp. 369 F.3d 700, 708 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Am. Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Windback & Conserve Program, Inc., 42 F.3d 1421, 1427 (3d Cir. 1994)) (internal quotation mark omitted).

III. Findings of Fact

“In granting or refusing an interlocutory injunction, the court must . . . state the findings and conclusions that support its action, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(2), which requires the court to “find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a)(1). While “Rule 52 does not require hyper-literal adherence, ” findings of fact and conclusions of law must be delineated in such a manner that does not leave an appellate court “unable to discern what were [the court’s] intended factual findings.” See In re Frescati Shipping, 718 F.3d at 197; see also 9C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2579 (3d ed. 2008) (“The district court should state separately its findings of fact and conclusions of law without commingling them . . . .”). Accordingly, this Court’s findings of facts pertinent to the disposition of Plaintiff’s Motion follow.

A. The Parties

1. Plaintiff is the present-day successor of the “Parks Sausage Company, ” which was founded by Henry G. Parks. See Caputo Decl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff’s current involvement in the processed meat products market is based on agreements Plaintiff has made to license the use of the name “Parks” to third parties, who use the name in connection with the production, marketing, and sale of such products. See Caputo Decl. ¶¶ 1, 3; Harris Decl. ¶¶ 1-2, 11-12, ECF No. 5-4. Dietz & Watson, Inc., conducting business under the “Parks Sausage Company” name, uses the Parks name to market and sell processed meat products that include “pork sausage rolls, little link sausages, pork, beef and turkey brown and serve links, mild smoked beef and turkey sausage, hot smoked beef and turkey sausage, scrapple, cracklins and pork chitterlings, ” which the company primarily sells in the eastern half of the country. Caputo Decl. ¶¶ 1, 3-4. Super Bakery Inc. uses the Parks name to market and sell “meat and cheese sandwiches and meal kits containing beef, beef barbeque, ham, meat balls, chicken, chicken barbeque, tuna, tuna salad and a variety of other products.” Harris Decl. ¶¶ 1-2.

2. Defendant Hillshire is a subsidiary of Defendant Tyson. See Smith Decl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 22-1; Tr. 171:19-21. Like Plaintiff, Tyson and its subsidiaries are also involved in the processed meat products market through their production, marketing, and sale of a variety of processed meat products under various brands, including the “Ball Park” brand of hot dogs. See Smith Decl. ¶¶ 4; Tr. 23:9-10. The origins of the Ball Park brand can be traced to hot dogs originally sold in Tiger Stadium, former home of the Detroit Tigers, in the late 1950s, and the brand is currently the top-selling brand of hot dogs in the country, accounting for approximately 23% of the revenue of all hot dogs sold in the United States. See Smith Decl. ¶¶ 5-6; Tr. 23:9-24:2. The Ball Park brand generates over $500 million in sales, primarily from sales of Ball Park-branded hot dogs but also in part from the sale of frozen, pre-cooked hamburger patties sold under the Ball Park brand. See Tr. 48:3-11. Ball Park-branded products are available for sale in every state of the country and can be ...


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