B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Industries, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: March 24, 2015
  • Case #: 13-352
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Alito, J. delivered the Court's opinion, which Roberts, C.J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ. joined. Ginsburg, J., filed a concurring opinion. Thomas, J. filed a dissenting opinion, in which Scalia, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

Providing that the elements of issue preclusion are met, if the usage adjudicated by the administrative agency are materially the same as the usage adjudicated by the district court, issue preclusion should apply.

Respondent attempted to register a trademark for its product, "Sealtite" with the Patent and Trademark Office. Petitioner opposed the registration because Respondent's product was too similar to Petitioner's product, "Sealtight," which was already trademarked.

The case went before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, which concluded that Respondent's product should not be registered as a trademark, because the similarities to Petitioner's trademark were likely to cause confusion. Respondent did not appeal the Board's decision. Petitioner also sued Respondent in district court for trademark infringement. After the TTAB ruled in favor of Petitioner, finding that the products were "confusingly similar," Petitioner attempted to use issue preclusion to prevent Respondent from arguing that there was not a likelihood of confusion. The district court did not apply issue preclusion, Petitioner appealed to the Eight Circuit arguing that issue preclusion should have applied, and the Eighth Circuit rejected issue preclusion.

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding that issue preclusion did apply. The Supreme Court reasoned that the Eighth Circuit used a narrow understanding of issue preclusion that would make issue preclusion difficult to apply in future trademark disputes. Instead, The Supreme Court ruled that a court should give "preclusive effect" to administrative agency decisions if the "ordinary elements of issue preclusion are met."

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