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Hotel Syracuse, Inc. v. Motel Syracuse, Inc.

Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division

January 6, 1954

HOTEL SYRACUSE, INC., Respondent,
v.
MOTEL SYRACUSE, INC., Appellant.

Page 183

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 184

APPEAL from a judgment of the Supreme Court in favor of plaintiff, entered July 24, 1953, in Onondaga County, upon a decision of the court at an Equity Term (BASTOW, J.).

COUNSEL

Jerome H. Searl for respondent.

Saul H. Alderman for appellant.

VAUGHAN, J.

Following a trial at an Equity Term of the Onondaga Supreme Court, plaintiff-respondent, Hotel Syracuse, took judgment enjoining and restraining defendant-appellant, Motel Syracuse, from using such name in connection with its business activities. We are called upon to review said judgment.

Plaintiff-respondent is the owner of the Hotel Syracuse, a typical city hotel enjoying an excellent reputation. The hotel is situated in the heart of downtown Syracuse close to the common carrier terminals. Plaintiff employs a full time publicity department.

Defendant was incorporated in 1951, and has constructed a rather elaborate motel on Route 5, one mile east of the Syracuse city limits in the town of DeWitt. This is about four miles from plaintiff's hotel. The postal address is East Syracuse. The motel consists of five one- and two-story brick veneer buildings arranged in the form of a court with parking facilities adjacent to each unit. There is not the slightest physical similarity between the motel and plaintiff's business.

Defendant has done little advertising, but has erected on its premises a large neon sign bearing the words 'Motel Syracuse'. Plaintiff's counsel wrote to defendant protesting the choice of the name 'Motel Syracuse' on the ground that its similarity to 'Hotel Syracuse' would produce confusion. On the trial, in support of this contention, it was proved that plaintiff has received one card and three letters addressed to Motel Syracuse. Plaintiff also received one bill addressed to plaintiff but intended for defendant. The bill was improperly posted from the voucher. Another bill addressed to the motel reached the hotel through the error of the postman. Defendant has received none of plaintiff's mail. On one occasion a guest with reservations at the motel mistakenly went to the hotel and was directed to defendant.

The law of trade names is but part of the broader law of unfair competition, the general purpose of which is to prevent one person from passing off his goods or his business as the goods or the business of another (American Foundries v. Robertson, 269 U.S. 372).

Page 185

'Whether the court will interfere in a particular case must depend upon circumstances; the identity or similarity of the names; the identity of the business of the respective corporations; how far the name is a true description of the * * * business carried on; the extent of the confusion which may be created or apprehended, and other circumstance[s] which might justly influence the judgment of the judge in granting or withholding the remedy.' ( Higgins Co. v. Higgins Soap Co.,144 N.Y. 462, 469-470.) Confusion of the public and damage to the plaintiff are the gist of the action (Hotel Claridge Co. v. George Rector, Inc.,164 A.D. 185). In the absence of damage, inconvenience or annoyance is insufficient. 'Courts of equity must, in such cases, assume that the public will use reasonable intelligence and discrimination with reference to the names of corporations with which they are dealing or intend to deal, the same as in cases of individuals bearing the same or similar names. It is timely enough in such cases for equity to ...


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