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Kibler v. Hall

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

December 13, 2016

Lee Jason Kibler, dba DJ Logic, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Robert Bryson Hall, II; Visionary Music Group, Inc.; William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, LLC; Three Oh One Productions, LLC; UMG Recordings, Inc., dba Def Jam Recordings, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: September 27, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:14-cv-10017-Arthur J. Tarnow, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          C. Enrico Schaefer, TRAVERSE LEGAL, PLC, Traverse City, Michigan, for Appellant.

          David Brafman, AKERMAN LLP, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Hall Appellees.

          Michael B. Garfinkel, PERKINS COIE LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Appellee William Morris Endeavor.

          Eric J. Shimanoff, COWAN LIEBOWITZ & LATMAN, P.C., New York, New York, for Appellee UMG Recordings.

         ON BRIEF:

          C. Enrico Schaefer, Mark G. Clark, TRAVERSE LEGAL, PLC, Traverse City, Michigan, for Appellant.

          David Brafman, AKERMAN LLP, West Palm Beach, Florida, for Hall Appellees.

          Michael B. Garfinkel, PERKINS COIE LLP, Los Angeles, California, for Appellee William Morris Endeavor.

          Eric J. Shimanoff, COWAN LIEBOWITZ & LATMAN, P.C., New York, New York, for Appellee UMG Recordings.

          Before: COLE, Chief Judge; DAUGHTREY and MOORE, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          COLE, Chief Judge.

         Lee Jason Kibler, a disc jockey, brought federal trademark infringement, related state law, and federal trademark dilution claims against Robert Bryson Hall, II, a rapper, and professional entities supporting Hall's work. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants on all claims. Kibler has appealed that judgment, requiring us to answer two questions. First, has Kibler provided evidence sufficient to find that relevant consumers are likely to confuse the sources of his and Hall's products? Second, has Kibler provided evidence sufficient to find that Hall has diluted Kibler's mark? We conclude no and thus affirm the grant of summary judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Kibler uses turntables and others' vocals to produce music containing jazz and funk elements, among others. He has performed and released several albums under the name "DJ LOGIC" since 1999 though he currently has no record deal. Kibler registered "DJ LOGIC" as a trademark in 2000, allowed the registration to lapse in 2003, and re-registered the name in 2013. He has also been known as just "LOGIC."

         Hall has performed under the name "LOGIC" since 2009. He previously used the names "Young Sinatra" and "Psychological." Three Oh One Productions is Hall's personal company and Visionary Music Group his management company (with Hall, "the Hall defendants"). UMG Recording d/b/a Def Jam Recordings ("Def Jam") is Hall's record label and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment ("WME") his booking agent.

         In September 2012, Kibler's attorney sent Visionary Music Group and WME an email ordering them to stop using the name "LOGIC" and to recall any product or advertisement that did. The attorney maintained that such use infringed on Kibler's mark. The next month, Three Oh One Productions applied to register "LOGIC" as a trademark.

         In January 2014, Kibler filed suit against the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. He alleged the following claims: 1) trademark infringement in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) (2012); 2) breach of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act ("MCPA"), Mich. Comp. Laws § 445.901-.922 (1977); 3) unfair competition under Michigan law; and 4) trademark dilution in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(c) (2012).

         In March 2014, defendants delayed Hall's tour and first album release due to ongoing settlement negotiations that ultimately collapsed. Def Jam proceeded to release the album in October of that year. It sold over 170, 000 copies.

         In May 2015, defendants moved for summary judgment on all of Kibler's claims. The parties fully briefed the matter and the district court held a hearing. In November 2015, the court granted defendants' motion in all respects.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         We review a district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. Med. Mut. of Ohio v. k. Amalia Enters. Inc., 548 F.3d 383, 389 (6th Cir. 2008); Daddy's Junky Music Stores, Inc. v. Big Daddy's Family Music Ctr., 109 F.3d 275, 280 (6th Cir. 1997) (clarifying that the rule holds in trademark infringement cases). Summary judgment is appropriate when the record shows "no genuine dispute as to any material fact." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). In other words, we affirm summary judgment when there is no evidence that would allow a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party, entitling the moving party to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). We view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         B. Trademark Infringement

         Kibler has made no separate arguments for his state law claims, and they rely on the same allegations as his federal trademark infringement claim. For these reasons, we address the state law claims along with the trademark infringement claim.

         This court considers whether trademark infringement has occurred using a two-step test. First, we determine whether plaintiff's mark is protectable. Innovation Ventures, LLC v. N.V.E., Inc., 694 F.3d 723, 728 (6th Cir. 2012). Then, we assess whether relevant consumers are likely to confuse the sources of the parties' products. Id.; Homeowners Grp., Inc. v. Home Mktg. Specialists, Inc., 931 F.2d 1100, 1107 (6th Cir. 1991). The relevant consumers are potential buyers of defendant's products. Maker's Mark Distillery, Inc. v. Diageo N. Am., Inc., 679 F.3d 410, 419 (6th Cir. 2012). Here, the parties agree Kibler's mark is protectable. So we focus on the likelihood that potential buyers of rap would believe Kibler's music is Hall's or vice-versa.

         In assessing the likelihood of confusion, we take into account the following eight "Frisch" factors: 1) strength of the plaintiff's mark, 2) relatedness of the products, 3) similarity of the marks, 4) evidence of actual confusion, 5) parties' marketing channels, 6) likely degree of purchaser care, 7) defendant's intent in selecting the mark, and 8) probability that the product lines will expand. CFE Racing Prods., Inc. v. BMF Wheels, Inc., 793 F.3d 571, 592 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Frisch's Rest., Inc. v. Shoney's Inc., 759 F.2d 1261, 1264 (6th Cir. 1985)).

         Plaintiff need not establish each factor to prevail. Id. Each case is unique, so not all of the factors will be helpful. Homeowners, 931 F.2d at 1107. Further, there is no designated balancing formula for the factors. CFE Racing, 793 F.3d at 592. "The[ir] enumeration is meant 'merely to indicate the need for weighted evaluation of the pertinent facts in arriving at the legal conclusion of confusion.'" Id. (quoting Frisch, 759 F.2d at 1264).

         1. Strength of Plaintiff's Mark

         The first Frisch factor favors defendants. While Kibler has shown that "DJ LOGIC" is moderately strong conceptually, he has failed to provide evidence ...


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