Last week, a federal judge admonished a plaintiff’s lawyer for filing a second emergency motion in its trademark infringement suit to halt the sale of counterfeit unicorn drawings amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic.
On March 9, 2020, the plaintiff, Art Ask Agency, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that multiple internet sites based in China sold counterfeit items depicting unicorns, dragons and elves designed by British artist, Anne Stokes. Examples of the allegedly infringing products can be found below:
The complaint requested a temporary restraining order. However, on March 16, the U.S. District Court issued an order putting all civil litigation on hold in light of the “coronavirus COVID-19 public emergency.” U.S. District Judge Steven Seeger accordingly rescheduled the temporary restraining motion hearing for April 13. In response, the plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that while it recognized that the community was in the midst of a “coronavirus pandemic” it would suffer an “irreparable injury” if the court did not hold a hearing that week and immediately put a stop to the infringing unicorns and the knock-off elves.
Two days later, the motion was followed by a second emergency motion, which prompted Seeger to swiftly deny the plaintiff’s motion to reconsider. Seeger’s scathing order noted that while the court can still hear emergency motions, “resources are stretched and time is at a premium. Therefore, “if there’s ever a time when emergency motions should be limited to genuine emergencies, now’s the time . . . the world is facing a real emergency, Plaintiff is not.”
Seeger’s order also quoted lawyer Elihu Root, the Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt: “About half of the practice of a decent lawyer is telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop.”
Takeaway: While real emergencies continue to exist in civil litigation during the COVID-19 crisis, prior to filing any request for emergency injunctive relief, attorneys should ensure that the matter truly is urgent and will likely be viewed as such by the court.