Rabbinical Council of Massachusetts v. International Food Products, Inc. (D. Mass. 22-cv-11460).

  • October 31, 2023

Rabbinical Council is one of the oldest Kosher certification organizations in the country, and holds a certification mark for certification that foods conform to kosher dietary laws.  Rabbinical Council asserted that International Food Products, who does business as Sabra Foods, was a former licensee of the Certification Mark, and that Sabra has continued using the Certification Mark despite Rabbinical Council having cancelled the license due to Sabra’s repeated violations of the license agreement.  When Sabra failed to respond to the complaint, Rabbinical Council moved for default judgment, which Judge Kelley granted.

Rabbinical Council noted that it had properly effected service, first by sending a demand letter, then by utilizing a deputy sheriff to hand deliver a copy of the complaint to Sabra’s clerk and wife of the owner.  Subsequently the owner confirmed that he had received a copy of the complaint and summons and that the address on which the complaint had been served was correct.

Judge Kelley first evaluated whether the well-pled facts of the complaint supported each of the counts.  Regarding the dilution count, the complaint properly alleged that Rabbinical Council owns and is making commercial use of a mark that is famous, and that Sabra began using the mark after it had become famous.  Sabra’s use was pled to both tarnish and blur Rabbinical Council’s mark, asserting that customers purchased Sabra products falsely believing them to have been certified as kosher by Rabbinical Council, which may result in a loss of trust in the mark and/or a loss of the mark’s ability to serve as a unique identifier of products certified as kosher by Rabbinical Council.

Judge Kelley further found that the claim for false designation was properly pled.  While Sabra’s use of the mark was not intended to suggest that the goods bearing the mark were manufactured by Rabbinical Council, it did intend to falsely convey that the goods were certified as kosher by Rabbinical Council.  She further found, accepting the factual pleadings of the complaint as true, that Sabra had violated a Massachusetts statute governing kosher food labeling and sale by knowingly selling food that was not prepared in accordance with kosher standards under the Rabbinical Council certification mark.  Accordingly, she granted default judgment on all counts.

Judge Kelley further found Rabbinical Council’s methodology for estimating Sabra’s profits for sale of falsely labeled goods at $25,000 per year to be credible.  She awarded $175,000 in damages for the violations of the Lanham Act, which she trebled to $525,000 based on Sabra’s willfulness, and $54,000 for violation of the Massachusetts kosher labeling law, as well as $14,829.67 in fees and costs.  She further granted injunctive relief, noting that irreparable harm for trademark infringement exists as a matter of law and that the public interest is served in preventing the sale of non-kosher food that is falsely labeled as kosher.

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