Two things we here at Abnormal Use detest: MTV’s Jersey Shore and retail clothing giant Abercrombie & Fitch. We understand that Jersey Shore and A&F appeal to some people, but we legal nerds have no place for spray tans and over-priced clothing – unless they cross paths in a courtroom. Much to our chagrin, after A&F released a t-shirt bearing the phrase, “The Fitchuation,” Jersey Shore‘s Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino filed a $4 million lawsuit against the retail chain, alleging trademark violations, deceptive advertising and misappropriation of his publicity rights.
A suit where there can be no winners, to be sure. According to the Hollywood Reporter, U.S. District Judge John O’Sullivan has now granted A&F’s motion for summary judgment. In a decision sure to make law school case books, Judge O’Sullivan notes:
Although the word ‘situation’ is not a word that was coined or made up by the plaintiffs, or a word that is obsolete, totally unknown in the language or out of common usage, the Court can discern no relationship between the word ‘situation’ and the apparel or entertainment services that the plaintiffs provide.
Moreover, Judge O’Sullivan found little in common between Sorrentino’s self-appointed nickname and A&F’s t-shirt.
The T-shirt expresses ‘The Fitchuation’ visually and phonetically different than ‘The Situation.’ There is no evidence of A&F ‘palming off’ its T-shirt as that of the plaintiffs where, as here, the T-shirt has the A&F inside label and prominently uses A&F’s own famous trademark ‘Fitch’ as part of the parody.
The highlight of the opinion, however, is Judge O’Sullivan’s response to a pre-suit press release put forth by A&F offering Sorrentino $10,000 to cease wearing its clothing.
A&F used only so much of the plaintiff’s name as was reasonably necessary to respond to his wearing A&F’s brand on The Jersey Shore, and did not do anything that would suggest Sorrentino’s sponsorship or endorsement. A&F’s press release expressly disassociated Sorrentino from A&F, and the plaintiffs have conceded that no third party has expressed any confusion that the press release rejecting Sorrentino’s image somehow suggested sponsorship or endorsement by Sorrentino.
Maybe The Situation should have taken that money. It is not $4 million, but it would be $10,000 closer to buying another 15 minutes of fame.