Friday, June 7, 2013

American Petroleum Institute v. Cooper

Jun 6: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, Case No. 12-1078. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh. The Appeals Court explains that the appeal involves the complex interplay of federal and state regulatory schemes concerning the distribution of renewable fuels. Plaintiffs American Petroleum Institute (API) and American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association (AFPMA) (collectively Plaintiffs) brought Federal preemption-based challenges in the district court seeking to enjoin enforcement of North Carolina's Ethanol Blending Statute (the Blending Statute), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-90 (2008). Concluding that the Blending Statute was not preempted under any of the grounds advanced by Plaintiffs, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the State of North Carolina and the Intervenor-Defendant, the North Carolina Petroleum and Convenience Marketers Association (NCPCMA) (collectively Defendants). The Appeals Court affirmed the district court's judgment in part, vacated it in part, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

    The Plaintiffs alleged that the Blending Statute, enacted by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2008, was preempted by (1) the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (PMPA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 2801-2841; (2) the Federal renewable fuel program; and (3) the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1051-1113. Plaintiffs contend that the district court erred in concluding that the Blending Statute was not preempted on the basis of the Lanham Act, the PMPA, or the federal renewable fuel program. Defendants' argue, as a threshold matter, that there is no preemption because suppliers can opt out of the requirements of the Blending Statute. 

    The Appeals Court notes that, one of the Lanham Act's purposes is "to establish uniform regulation of trademarks thereby eliminating the possibility that remedies would vary from state to state." Rickard v. Auto Publisher, Inc., 735 F.2d 450, 457 (11th Cir. 1984). The Lanham Act is intended to, inter alia, "protect registered marks used in [interstate] commerce from interference by State . . . legislation."

    In its conclusion, the Appeals Court rules, "Although we are in agreement with the district court insofar as it rejected Plaintiffs' PMPA and federal renewable fuel program preemption challenges, we hold that genuine issues of material fact remain unresolved as to Plaintiffs' Lanham Act preemption challenge to the Blending Statute. As a consequence, the district court erred in awarding summary judgment to the Defendants on the Lanham Act claim. We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court in part, vacate it in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Energy/Ethanol, #CA4]
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