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Mercado Latino Inc. v. Indio Products Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 11, 2017

INDIO PRODUCTS, INC., a California corporation, Defendants.


          DEAN D. PREGERSON United States District Judge.

         Presently before the court is Defendant Indio Products, Inc. (“Indio”)'s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.[1] Having considered the submissions of the parties and heard oral argument, the court denies the motion and adopts the following order.

         I. Background

         Indio and Plaintiff Mercado Latino, Inc. (“Mercado”) both sell devotional prayer candles bearing images of saints and other religious figures. (Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) ¶¶ 7, 12, 23.) Mercado's “Sanctuary Series” candles feature “a clear cylindrical container that is approximately 2.25 x 2.25 x 8.0 inches in length, width and height, filled with a solid, single color wax, the clear cylindrical container has an opaque die-cut label with two opposite sides - a ‘front' and ‘back'. The front side of the die-cut label has a silhouette outlined by a black border with a top portion that tapers together and forms a pointed tip that resembles a ‘bullet' shape, with segments of shapes in varying and alternating sizes and colors, similar to a stained glass window. Placed over that label is a depiction of a saint or other religious icon. Directly beneath the depiction of the saint or religious icon, (sic) is a separate segment on the label that resembles a scroll with the name of the saint or religious icon.” (SAC ¶ 12.) Mercado alleges that this trade dress is inherently distinctive and non-functional. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 13.) Mercado further alleges that it has promoted, advertised, and sold Sanctuary Series candles for over twenty years, and that Sanctuary Series candles are sold at large, nationwide retailers and “smaller independent Latino retailers.” (Id. ¶ 15.)

         Mercado alleges, among other things, that Defendant sells a line of candles that infringe upon Plaintiff's Sanctuary Series trade dress.[2] Defendant now moves for judgment on the pleadings with respect to the trade dress claim.

         II. Legal Standard

         A party may move for judgment on the pleadings “[a]fter the pleadings are closed [] but early enough as not to delay the trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings is proper when the moving party clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1990); Doleman v. Meiji Mut. Life Ins. Co., 727 F.2d 1480, 1482 (9th Cir. 1984). The standard applied on a Rule 12(c) motion is essentially the same as that applied on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, with the court accepting all of the non-moving party's allegations as true. Lyon v. Chase Bank USA, N.A., 656 F.3d 877, 883 (9th Cir. 2011).

         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 requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         III. Discussion

         A. Specificity of the Claimed Trade Dress Trade dress is the “total image of a product, including features such as size, shape, color, texture, and graphics[.]” Millennium Labs., Inc. v. Ameritox, Ltd., 817 F.3d 1123, 1126 (9th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation and citations omitted). A plaintiff bringing a trade dress claim must allege “(1) that its claimed dress is nonfunctional; (2) that its claimed dress serves a source-identifying role[, ] either because it is inherently distinctive or has acquired secondary meaning; and (3) that the defendant's product . . . creates a likelihood of consumer confusion.” Clicks Billiards, Inc. v. Sixshooters, Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1258 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Defendant argues first that Plaintiff has not adequately defined its trade dress. (Motion at 9.) A plaintiff must describe its trade dress clearly enough to give a defendant sufficient notice of the plaintiff's claim. See Homeland Housewares, LLC v. Euro-Pro Operating LLC, No. CV 14-03954 DDP (MANx), 2014 WL 6892141 at *3 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 5, 2014); Millenium Labs., Inc. v. Ameritox, Ltd., No. 12CV1063-MMA(JMA), 2012 WL 4863781 at *2 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 12, 2012). Defendant's argument regarding Plaintiff's description of the claimed trade dress appears to be less a question of articulation, however, than of overbreadth. Defendant argues, for example, that the alleged trade dress is described so broadly as “to capture nearly any stained glass type design, essentially making Mercado's stained glass design generic.” (Mot. at 10:20-22.) As this argument suggests, problems of overbreadth are better considered as questions of genericness rather than specificity. See Walker & Zanger, Inc. v. Paragon, Indus., Inc., 549 F.Supp.2d 1168, 1174 (N.D. Cal. 2007) (“Cases addressing product design suggests that the term ‘genericness' covers three situations: (1) if the definition of a product design is overbroad or too generalized; (2) if a product design is the basic form of a type of product; or (3) if the product design is so common in the industry that it cannot be said to identify a particular source.”). Questions of genericness, however, are questions of fact. Yellow Cab Co. of Sacramento v. Yellow Cab of Elk Grove, Inc., 419 F.3d 925, 929 (9th Cir. 2005). Here, Plaintiff's relatively detailed description of its claimed trade dress is adequate to put defendant on notice, particularly in light of Plaintiff's inclusion of images of the claimed trade dress in the SAC. (SAC ¶ 12, Ex. A.)

         B. Distinctiveness

         Defendant also contends that Plaintiff has not sufficiently pleaded that the claimed trade dress serves a source-identifying role because the Sanctuary Series trade dress is not inherently distinctive and Plaintiff has not adequately alleged secondary meaning.[3] As an initial matter, the parties dispute whether Plaintiff's trade dress claim is a “product design” claim or a “product packaging” claim. (Opposition at 14:12, Reply at 5:9.) The distinction is important because product design trade dress can never be inherently distinctive, and therefore ...

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