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Brian Lichtenberg, LLC v. Alex & Chloe, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 15, 2014

BRIAN LICHTENBERG, LLC, a California limited liability company; BRIAN LICHTENBERG, an individual, Plaintiffs,
ALEX & CHLOE, INC., a California corporation; et al., Defendants.


DEAN D. PREGERSON, District Judge.

Presently before the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint. Having considered the parties' submissions and heard oral argument, the court denies the motion and adopts the following order.

I. Background[1]

As described more extensively in this court's earlier orders, Plaintiff Brian Lichtenberg ("Brian") designs clothing and accessories and distributes his products through Brian Lichtenberg, LLC. (Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") ¶¶ 16-17).[2] Brian's designs include a series of parodies of designer brands, such as "Homiès" as a play on "Hermès" and "Bucci, " a parody of "Gucci." (SAC ¶ 18.) Brian's spoof or parody logos mimic the style, font, and other elements of the luxury brand designs. (Id.) Brian sells shirts, sweatshirts, pants, beanies, and hats bearing the various spoof designs. (SAC ¶¶ 16-18.) Brian alleges that his designs are very successful, and are frequently worn by celebrities and featured in the media. (SAC ¶¶ 19-22.)

Brian's younger brother, Defendant Christopher Walter Lichtenberg ("Chris"), is the sole shareholder or principal of Defendant Alex and Chloe, Inc. ("A&C"). (SAC ¶¶ 3-4.)

The SAC alleges that in January 2012, Brian developed one particular parody design, "Ballin, " as a play on the luxury brand "Balmain." (SAC ¶ 43.) By November 2012, Chris was working as a "part-time contractor" for Brian. (SAC ¶ 46.) Chris' duties included graphic design and promotional work related to Brian's "Ballin with My Homies" project. (Id.) In connection with those duties, Chris allegedly had access to confidential lists of Brian's customers and industry contacts. (SAC ¶ 47.)

The FAC alleges that Chris copied and claimed ownership of the "Ballin" design, contacted Brian's manufacturer and requested that products identical to Brian's be made under the A&C label, and used Brian's confidential customer lists to sell the A&C items. (SAC ¶¶ 51-56.) Chris listed his products for sale on the A&C website in late January or early February 2013, before Brian's "Ballin" products came to market. (Id.)

Chris repeatedly claimed to own the "Ballin" design via the internet and social media. (SAC ¶¶ 66-68.) Chris also contacted several of Brian's buyers, stated that Brian's "Ballin" products were counterfeits, and asked that retailers stop selling Brian's "Ballin" products. (SAC ¶¶ 58-60; 63-65.) Chris then made further public statements claiming that Brian had stolen not only the "Ballin" design, but other parody designs as well. (SAC ¶¶ 67-68.) At Chris's request, social media sites removed images of Brian's "Ballin" apparel posted to Brian's pages. (SAC ¶ 73.)

Chris and A&C then expanded their offerings to include other products similar to Brian's, featuring other parody designs beyond "Ballin." (SAC ¶ 86.) Chris also appropriated photographs of celebrities wearing Brian's products, then claimed on the A&C website and elsewhere that those celebrities endorsed A&C. (SAC ¶¶ 80-82, 84-85.)

Plaintiffs' SAC alleges nine causes of action against Defendants, including trade dress infringement, unfair competition and false designation of origin, and trademark dilution under Section 43 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125, as well as state law causes of action including unfair business practices in violation of California Business & Professions Code Section 17200. Defendants now move to dismiss the SAC, but address only the three Lanham Act causes of action and one state law cause of action for unfair business practices.

II. Legal Standard

A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss when it contains "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 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must "accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Resnick v. Hayes , 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000). Although a complaint need not include "detailed factual allegations, " it must offer "more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. Conclusory allegations or allegations that are no more than a statement of a legal conclusion "are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. In other words, a pleading that merely offers "labels and conclusions, " a "formulaic recitation of the elements, " or "naked assertions" will not be sufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Id. at 678 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

"When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief." Id. at 679. Plaintiffs must allege "plausible grounds to infer" that their claims rise "above the speculative level." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief" is a "context-specific task that ...

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