Lucas Nursery & Landscaping, Inc. v. Grosse, Civ. A. No. 01-73291 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 24, 2002), aff'd, 359 F.3d 806 (6th Cir. 2004) (full-text).
Factual Background Edit
Defendant hired plaintiff to perform landscaping work, which she claimed was done inadequately. Defendant registered the domain name "lucasnursery.com" and created a website titled "My Lucas Landscaping Experience." Defendant used the website to describe her experience with plaintiff, noting the poor job plaintiff had done and that she had to pay an additional $5,400 for a second landscaper to repair plaintiff's work. Plaintiff sent defendant a letter demanding that she stop operating the website. She initially removed the content from the website, but she posted new content to the site upon learning that plaintiff did not own a registered trademark for Lucas Nursery. The lack of a trademark registration led defendant to conclude that plaintiff could not prevent her from maintaining the website.
Trial Court Proceedings Edit
Plaintiff sued defendant under the ACPA and both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted defendant's motion, finding that she did not register "lucasnursery.com" with a bad-faith intent to profit. The court noted that she acted in good faith in trying to educate and protect fellow consumers and that she did not violate the law by registering or using the domain name. In addition, the court awarded defendant her costs and attorney's fees.
Appellate Court Proceedings Edit
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. Even though defendant did not own a trademark or other intellectual property right in the domain name, the domain name did not consist of her legal name, and defendant did not use the domain name to offer any goods or services, the Sixth Circuit noted that the following bad faith factors weighed in her favor: (1) defendant used the site for noncommercial purposes, (2) plaintiff did not have an online location that defendant could attempt to divert customers from, (3) there was no evidence that defendant tried to suggest sponsorship of the website by plaintiff, (4) the website expressly stated that the site was established by defendant to relay her experience with plaintiff, (5) defendant never offered to sell the domain name to plaintiff, (6) defendant did not provide incorrect or misleading contact information on the website, and (7) defendant never registered other trademark-related domain names.
In short, the court found that "the practice of informing fellow consumers of one's experience with a particular service provider is surely "not inconsistent" with the objective of the ACPA to protect consumers from "slick internet peddlers who trade on the names and reputations of established brands."
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