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Newborn Bros. Co. v. Albion Engineering Co.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 27, 2014

NEWBORN BROS. CO., INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ALBION ENGINEERING COMPANY, Defendant.

John-Paul Madden, Esquire, Timothy R. Bieg, Esquire, Madden & Madden, Haddonfield, New Jersey, Attorneys for Plaintiff Newborn Bros. Co., Inc.

Kerri E. Chewning, Esquire, Archer & Greiner, PC, Haddonfield, New Jersey, Attorney for Albion Engineering Company.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiff Newborn Bros. Co., Inc.'s motion [Doc. No. 32] to strike Defendant Albion Engineering Company's affirmative defense of unclean hands pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f). Defendant Albion Engineering Company opposes Plaintiff's motion to strike. The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decides this matter pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

For the reasons expressed below, Plaintiff's motion to strike will be denied.

I. JURISDICTION

In this action, Plaintiff asserts a claim for false advertising and product marking in violation of Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), as well as a New Jersey state law claim for tortious unfair competition through false statements and material omissions. The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Lanham Act claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 15 U.S.C. § 1121, and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Newborn Bros. Co., Inc. ("Plaintiff" or "Newborn") is a Virginia corporation with its principal place of business in Jessup, Maryland which engages "in the business of importing and distributing dispensing guns [made for the application of sealants and adhesives] sold under its corporate name." (Compl. [Doc. No. 1] ¶¶ 2, 37.) Newborn distributes and sells a "range of manual bulk, sausage, cartridge and epoxy dispensing gun models" and numerous "caulking accessories, including spatulas, mixers, and caulk knives[.]" (Id. ¶ 38.) Newborn alleges that Defendant Albion Engineering Company ("Defendant" or "Albion") is a New Jersey corporation with its principal place of business in Moorestown, New Jersey which similarly markets its manual dispensing guns and caulking accessories to distributors for ultimate sale to the end consumer. (Id. ¶ 3, 5.)

As set forth in the complaint, Newborn brings this action "for false and misleading advertising, product labeling, and product packaging under" Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act and for "unconscionable commercial practice, fraud, misrepresentation, and knowing concealment or omission of material facts in the sale and advertisement of Albion's manual dispensing guns and caulking accessories in violation of New Jersey law." (Id. ¶ 1.) Specifically, Newborn asserts that Albion engages in unfair competition by making "false representations of the geographic origin and location of manufacture [for] its manual dispensing guns and caulking accessories[, ]" and by intentionally concealing and omitting the true location of manufacture and geographic origin of its goods. (Id. ¶ 8.)

According to Newborn, Albion distinguishes its manual dispensing guns and caulking accessories from "Newborn's equivalent and competitive goods based on country of origin, claiming that such Albion products are made in the United States of America or are manufactured or built by Albion in America." (Id. ¶ 36.) However, as alleged in the complaint, Albion does not actually manufacture its manual dispensing guns and caulking accessories in the United States, but rather, Albion's merchandise is made in, and imported from, Taiwan. (See generally id. ¶¶ 28-34.) The complaint further alleges that "Albion has direct contact with the suppliers of the subject merchandise in Taiwan" such that Albion has knowledge of the "true facts" regarding its products. (Id. ¶ 81.) Therefore, Newborn claims, Defendant's "false origin claims, misrepresentations of the manufacturer, and omissions of material fact as to the true geographic origin of its" manual dispensing guns and caulking accessories through Albion's "product marking, container labeling, advertising, and sale, are done knowingly and intentionally." (Id.)

Newborn further contends that "Albion uses false advertisement and product marking and omits representations and markings of the true geographic origin of its caulking accessories" and manual dispensing guns in order to "mislead its distributers and their customers into believing that Albion's caulking accessories" and manual dispensing guns "are made in America." (Id. ¶¶ 110, 82.) According to Newborn's complaint, Albion intentionally misleads distributors and customers for the purpose of securing sales of Albion manual dispensing guns and caulking accessories "to distributors and customers who have a preference for such products that are made in the United States." (Id. ¶ 117.) Newborn complains, however, that "[b]y falsely representing the geographic origin of its... [manual] dispensing guns and its calking accessories as USA and by falsely representing itself to be the manufacturer, Albion competes unfairly with Newborn with the result that Albion's... [manual] dispensing guns, ... and its caulking accessories are substituted in sales that would otherwise be made by Newborn." (Id. ¶ 118.) Newborn specifically alleges that as a result, it "has been and is likely to be damaged by Albion's false and misleading advertising, product labeling, and product packaging as to the geographic origin and location of manufacture of its manual dispensing guns and caulking accessories." (Id. ¶ 7.)

Newborn filed the complaint in this action on May 18, 2012. Albion subsequently filed an answer [Doc. No. 17] on July 23, 2012, which expressly stated four affirmative defenses, including that "Plaintiff was not entitled to any relief because of unclean hands." (Answer [Doc. No. 17], Aff. Def. ¶ 4.) Approximately seven months later, in February of 2013, Albion filed a motion [Doc. No. 25] seeking to amend its answer to clarifying two responsive paragraphs and to assert an additional affirmative defense not at issue in the present motion. The Honorable Karen M. Williams, United States Magistrate Judge, granted Albion's motion to amend its answer by Order dated July 11, 2013. (Order [Doc. No. 30] 10-11, July 11, 2013). In accordance with Judge Williams' Order, ...


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