BATON ROUGE – Nearly a month after Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne filed a lawsuit against a liberal political action committee over its billboard parody of the State of Louisiana’s tourism slogan that derided Gov. Bobby Jindal for not accepting federal Medicaid monies, a federal court has ruled that the billboard will be allowed to stand.
Dardenne initially filed suit against MoveOn.org in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana on March 14 accusing the group of misappropriating the state’s tourism slogan “Pick Your Passion” on a billboard placed along Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge that reads “Louisiana. Pick You Passion! But hope you don’t love your health. Gov. Jindal’s denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.”
Dardenne alleged that the billboard campaign also closely mimicked other marketing material used in the “Pick Your Passion” campaign and took an image of a plate of crawfish directly from the website of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.
However, U.S. Judge Shelly D. Dick, who is over seeing the case, said in an April 7 ruling that forcing the group to take down the sign while the trademark infringement issue is being litigated would deny MoveOn.org its right to free political speech.
Dick said while the State of Louisiana’s tourism trademark is a legally protectable mark, the burden of proving trademark infringement is on the state which would have to present more compelling information that the infringement was occurring especially because the billboard was merely expressing a point of view.
“The State argues that viewers of the billboard will be confused into thinking that the Lieutenant Governor, as the alleged owner of the service mark, is being critical of the Governor. In this Court’s view, the Lieutenant Governor underestimates the intelligence and reasonableness of people viewing the billboard,” Disk’s ruling states.
In addition, Dick found that the State of Louisiana, thus the citizens of Louisiana, are the actual owners of the trademark, not Dardenne or Jindal, who the billboard is critical of, and that the trademark could not be found to be criticizing its owners.
The court concluded that Dardenne “failed to demonstrate a compelling reason to curtail MoveOn.org.’s political speech in favor of protecting of the State’s service mark” and did not show proof of irreparable injury due to the billboard.