Judge rules for nonprofit group in slogan battle

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A nonprofit group can continue to use Louisiana’s trademarked tourism slogan to criticize the government while a lawsuit against its billboard is still in court, a federal district judge has ruled.

District Judge Shelly Dick ruled Monday that a MoveOn.org billboard using the slogan “Pick your Passion” can stay in place before she hears Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne’s lawsuit challenging its use. Dardenne filed suit over the ad criticizing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“This decision is a victory for common sense, freedom of speech, and the 242,000 Louisianians being denied health care because of Governor Jindal and Louisiana Republicans’ outrageous refusal to let them access Medicaid. What it means is, our billboard is staying up,” Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org Civic Action, said in a news release.

The group’s billboard on Interstate 10 near Baton Rouge reads: “Louisiana! Pick your passion! But hope you don’t love your health. Gov. Jindal is denying Medicaid to 242,000 people.”

Dardenne said he will consult with attorney Dale Baringer about whether to continue with the lawsuit. “We knew it was a close case when we brought it but felt it incumbent to protect the brand for which we have spent so much money,” he said.

The state has spent about $70 million developing and using the mark registered with the Louisiana secretary of state’s office in January 2011, according to Dick’s ruling.

Dardenne sued in March, arguing that MoveOn had no right to use a trademarked marketing slogan in politics.

To win a trademark infringement suit, Dardenne had to prove that using the slogan would confuse readers about the message’s source, affiliation or sponsorship, Dick wrote. Dardenne argued that people who saw the billboard would think he or the state was criticizing Jindal.

“In this Court’s view, the Lieutenant Governor underestimates the intelligence and reasonableness of people viewing the billboard,” Dick wrote.

In a footnote, the judge said Dardenne used a “fundamentally flawed” survey to try to make his point.

MoveOn spokesman Nick Berning said, “The whole thing was great to read. It was a clear-cut ruling that made it clear the state had a very weak case.”

Dardenne said, “I don’t think we’ve underestimated the intelligence of the Louisiana people.”

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