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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jurisdictional elements and merits

Here is a Ninth Circuit decision properly analyzing jurisdictionality in a Lanham Act case. The court held that the requirement that a trademark be "use[d] in commerce" is an element of the trademark claim and does not go to the court's jurisdiction over the claim. Relying on Arbaugh, the court held that the substantive provisions of the Lanham Act do not contain jurisdictional language and the actual jurisdictional grants for trademark cases (§ 1331 and 15 U.S.C. § 1121(a), along with 28 U.S.C. § 1338, which the court did not mention) do not use this language. Thus, "use in commerce" goes to the merits, not jurisdiction. This is spot-on analysis and the court made relatively light work of the arguments.

The court did not discuss it in these terms, but this case demonstrates the confusion created by so-called jurisdictional elements. The "use in commerce" element hooks the Lanham Act into Congress' Commerce power--Congress lacks the power (the jurisdiction) under that clause to regulate trademarks not used in interstate commerce. The "jurisdiction" here is Congress' prescriptive or legislative jurisdiction, its authority to prescribe legal rules to regulate real-world conduct. An internal limitation on congressional legislative power--like an external limitation such as the First Amendment ministerial exemption--constitutionally limits the scope of the legal rule and thus the rights granted and duties imposed under that rule.

But jurisdictional elements write that prescriptive-jurisdictional limitation into the statute, and the statutory claim, itself. Rather than absence of "use in commerce" rendering the statute unconstitutional as applied (as with a minister's ADA claim against a church), the failure of the jurisdictional element means the statute by its terms does not "reach" the conduct at issue. A Lanham Act plaintiff must prove "use in commerce" just as it must prove "reproduction, counterfeit, copy, or colorable imitation of a registered mark;" both go to whether there is an existing legal rule imposing liability on these defendants on the real-world facts at issue and thus whether the plaintiff's infringement claim has merit. In that regard, a jurisdictional element functions the same as an ordinary element of a statute. The jurisdictional element is there for a different reason than an ordinary element, but its role is the same--it controls the "reach" of the statute, which is uniformly understood as a merits concern. And it has nothing to do with whether the court has adjudicative jurisdiction to hear and resolve a claim because it is "arising under" that statute.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 12, 2014 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

Comments

Whoa! Are you switching positions on Hosanna-Tabor? I continue to believe its footnote might have been wrong not only in its rationale but in its result, and that the non-statutory ministerial exemption might be jurisdiction rather than merits.

Posted by: Jim von der Heydt | Aug 13, 2014 1:09:11 PM

Absolutely not--I still maintain it is a merits issue, tied to Congress' prescriptive jurisdiction and thus the reach of the statutory right. This is the argument I made in the Penn article linked above.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 13, 2014 2:01:38 PM

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