A failure to Communicat-R

Litigation about the intellectual property rights to the name “Communicat-R” (here, applied to a specialized type of whiteboard) led to a jury trial. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, finding no abuse of discretion in this instruction: “Trademarks can be abandoned through non-use. A trademark is abandoned if it is proven by a preponderance of the evidence, that (1) the use of trademark was discontinued; and (2) an intent not to resume such use.” The Court rejected a request for additional language about “excusable nonuse,” finding that it would either be redundant or not entirely accurate in the context of this case. The Court also rejected sufficiency challenges to liability and damages, illustrating the operation of the federal standard for the grant of a new trial. Vetter v. McAtee, No. 15-20575 (March 1, 2017).

It’s hard to be a receiver.

stanford bankPeter Romero, among the multitudes sued for fraudulent transfers by the receiver for Stanford International Bank, argued that limitations had run because the receiver had not sued within a year of when the transfer “was or could reasonably have been discovered by the claimaint.”  The receiver offered detailed proof about the overall timetable of his work, its substantive scope, its geographic scope, and the condition of the relevant documents and electronic records.  An accountant corroborated his account.  This was sufficient information to sustain the jury’s finding in favor of the receiver (on a question using a specific date, unlike the standard Texas PJC submission).  Janvey v. Romero, No. 15-10435 (March 16, 2016).

How to identify reversible charge error

citgo_logoThe issue in United States v. CITGO was whether an “equalization tank” — a holding tank that plays a role in the process for handling oil refinery wastewater — is an “oil-water separator” within the meaning of the regulations implementing the Clean Water Act.  The jury instructions quoted the regulation’s definition of an oil-water separator and then added: “[t]he definition of oil-water separator does not require that [it] have any or all of the ancillary equipment mentioned such as forebays, weirs, grit chambers, and sludge hoppers . . . . An oil-water separator is defined by how it is used.” The Fifth Circuit found an abuse of discretion in that additional sentence and reversed CITGO’s convictions: “This purely functional explanation is not what [the regulation] says, however: it defines an oil-water separator by how it is used and by its constituent parts. . . .  Although the jury was also provided the exact text of Subpart QQQ, the court’s instruction told them what it means and thus undoubtedly affected the verdict. For this harmful error, the Clean Air Act convictions must be reversed.”  No. 14-40128 (Sept. 4, 2015).