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Am. Nat'l Theatre and Academy v. Am. Nat'l Theatre Inc.

September 27, 2006

THE AMERICAN NATIONAL THEATRE AND ACADEMY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE AMERICAN NATIONAL THEATRE INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

The American National Theatre and Academy ("ANTA") brought this action seeking, in part, to enjoin the defendant from using the name "The American National Theatre Inc." ("ANT"). In Count One of its First Amended Complaint, the plaintiff asserts that the defendant's use of the name "The American National Theatre Inc." violates ANTA's exclusive right pursuant to 36 U.S.C. § 21904. ANTA has moved for partial summary judgment dismissing this claim.*fn1

The sole question presented here is whether § 21904, which grants the plaintiff the "exclusive right to use the name 'The American National Theater and Academy,'" prevents the defendant from using the name "The American National Theatre Inc." For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that it does not.

I.

The standard for granting summary judgment is well established. Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs. Ltd. P'ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at this point to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224. Based on the undisputed facts, the plaintiff has failed to show that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

II.

The following material facts are undisputed. The American National Theater and Academy is a nonprofit organization, which was incorporated by an act of Congress in 1935.*fn2 Act of July 5, 1935, Pub. L. No. 74-199, 49 Stat. 458 (the "Act") (Ex. A to Decl. of William M. Borchard, June 28, 2005 ("Borchard Decl.")). The Act granted to the corporation, the plaintiff ANTA, "the sole and exclusive right to have and to use in carrying out its purposes the name 'The American National Theater and Academy.'"*fn3 § 5. As codified and later amended,*fn4 the grant provides: "The corporation and its State and local branches and subdivisions have the exclusive right to use the name 'The American National Theater and Academy.'" 36 U.S.C. § 21904.

On or about June 12, 2003, the defendant organized a New York nonprofit corporation under the name "The American National Theatre Inc." (Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Pl.'s Stmt.") ¶ 9; Defendant's Rule 56.1 Counterstatement of Undisputed Facts ("Def.'s Stmt.") ¶ 9.) The defendant, ANT, is unrelated to ANTA and has not obtained ANTA's permission to use its name. (Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 10; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 10.) ANTA brought this action seeking, in part, a permanent and preliminary injunction restraining ANT from using the name "The American National Theatre Inc." or the acronym "ANT." (See Am. Compl. at 7.)

III.

ANTA argues that its "exclusive right to use the name 'The American National Theater and Academy,'" 36 U.S.C. § 21904, prevents ANT from using the name "The American National Theatre Inc." ANT responds that the statute bars only the use of identical names, and the statute thus does not exclude its non-identical name or its use of the initials "ANT" as an acronym.

"[T]he 'starting point in every case involving construction of a statute is the language itself.'" S.F. Arts & Athletics, Inc. v. U.S. Olympic Comm., 483 U.S. 522, 528 (1987) (alterations in original) (quoting Kelly v. Robinson, 479 U.S. 36, 43 (1986)). Where the language of the statute is plain, "the sole function of the courts is to enforce it according to its terms." United States v. Ron Pair Enterprises, Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 241 (1989) (quoting Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 485 (1917)).

Again, the statute provides ANTA with the "exclusive right to use the name 'The American National Theater and Academy.'" 36 U.S.C. § 21904. The statute's language is plain. ANTA has the exclusive right to use the precise name appearing within the quotation marks: "The American National Theater and Academy." The statute does not also provide ANTA with an exclusive right to the name "The American National Theatre," nor does it extend ANTA's exclusive right to the initials "ANT." Based on the statute's plain language, ANTA's right extends to the precise name appearing within the quotation marks, nothing more, and nothing less.

In Blinded Veterans Assoc. v. Blinded Am. Veterans Foundation, 872 F.2d 1035 (1989), the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals confronted a nearly identical issue. In that case, the Blinded Veterans Association ("BVA") sought to prevent the Blinded American Veterans Foundation ("BAVF") from using the words "blinded" and "veterans" in its name and the initials "BAV" as an acronym. Blinded Veterans, 872 F.2d at 1036. Among other claims, BVA argued that its congressional charter, which provided it "the sole and exclusive right to have and use in carrying out its purposes the name Blinded Veterans Association and such seals, emblems, and badges as the corporation may lawfully adopt" prevented an organization such as BAVF from "using a confusingly similar name or logo." See id. at 1042 (citing 36 U.S.C. § 867 (1982)).

Writing for the panel, then-Judge Ginsburg concluded that the statute granted BVA exclusive rights only to the name "Blinded Veterans Association" (as well as the specific symbols ...


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