Court Rules GuideStar Suit Not Covered by Lanham Act

Jan 24, 2018

Judge Raymond A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed Liberty Counsel’s federal lawsuit against GuideStar, stating that under the federal Lanham Act GuideStar’s republication on its website of a “hate group” label did not met the commercial purpose  requirement of the act. The lawsuit, Liberty Counsel, Inc. v. GuideStar USA, Inc., charges GuideStar with violating the federal Lanham Act, along with state law violations of Interference with Business Expectancy and Defamation. Since the court found no commercial purpose, it did not rule on the state law claims.

The Lanham Act states: “(1) Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, or any container for goods, uses in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which—(A) is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person, or

(B) in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or another person’s goods, services, or commercial activities, shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he or she is or is likely to be damaged by such act.”

Judge Jackson only analyzed the Lanham Act claim and stated that the suit did not satisfy the first element which requires that the advertising or promotion constitute commercial speech. Jackson further stated that because the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) notation on Liberty Counsel's profile does not solicit funds for GuideStar, then it is not commercial speech. The analysis on this point is subject to an appeal. Judge Jackson did not analyze the rest of the Lanham Act claim or the state law claims.

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