The Supreme Court today adopted a new test for claims under the federal Lanham Act, which creates a cause of action for "false association" and "false advertising". Lexmark Int'l, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., No. 12-873, slip op. 3 (U.S. Mar. 25, 2014).
Writing for a 9-0 Court, Justice Antonin Scalia brushed aside three different formulations, by multiple courts of appeals, of what criteria a plaintiff must meet in order to have a righ to sue under the Lanham Act.
Justice Scalia also gave the back of the Court's hand to the idea that "prudential standing" had anything to do with the case. "Just as a court cannot apply its independent policy judgment torecognize a cause of action that Congress has denied, . . . it cannot limit a cause of action that Congress has created merely because 'prudence' dictates." Id. at 9 (citation omitted).
The true test for a right to sue for Lanham Act violations, the Court ruled, asks whether the plaintiff falls within a "zone of interests" that the Act protects, id. at 10-13, and whether the conduct at issue "proximately caused" the plaintiff's injury, id. at 13-15.
The case concerned an effort by Lexmark, which makes ink cartridges for printers, to stop Lexmark cartridge-buyers from purchasing old Lexmark cartridges that a competitor refurbished and filled with new ink. Static Control made components that Lexmark competitors used in the refurbishing process. It sued Lexmark for falsely telling customers that they couldn't sell their old Lexmark cartridges to competing refurbishers and notifying the refurbishers that refurbishing Lexmark cartridges violated Lexmark's rights.