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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

753 F.2d 131 (1985)

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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

753 F.2d 131 (1985)

Facts

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (association) (plaintiff) was founded in 1909 for the purpose of promoting equal rights and eradicating racial prejudice in the United States. During the 1930s, the association created a separate legal entity called the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (fund) (defendant). To complete the incorporation of the fund, in 1939, the association passed a resolution granting permission for the fund to use the NAACP initials. In 1957, facing challenges to the fund’s tax-exempt status arising from its close relationship to the association’s political activities, the parties decided that the fund would become independent. At that time, it was agreed that the fund would continue to use the NAACP initials, but that the organizations would no longer share board members and would sever other ties. Tensions between the organizations grew during the 1960s, largely because of fundraising competition. In 1965, the association’s board voted to ask the fund to stop using the NAACP name and to seek an injunction if the fund refused to do so. The fund declined, and unsuccessful negotiations ensued, but the association did not take legal action. From 1966–1978, the association was silent about the fund’s use of the initials. By 1966, the fund was including a disclaimer on its stationery disavowing any present relationship with the association; however, the fund continued to spend time and money building goodwill, soliciting donations, and recruiting legal talent using the NAACP initials. The association raised the issue again in 1978 and adopted a resolution the following year that rescinded the earlier one granting the fund permission to use the name. In 1982, the association registered the NAACP initials with the Patent and Trademark Office and filed suit against the fund, alleging trademark infringement. The district court awarded summary judgment to the association, and the fund appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Bazelon, J.)

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