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M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Associates, Inc v. Jay Marshall Strabala

February 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Ronald A. Guzman


M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. & Associates, Inc. ("Gensler") has sued Jay Marshall Strabala, individually and doing business as 2DEFINE Architecture ("Strabala"), pursuant to § 43(a) of the Lanham Act for trademark infringement and false advertising, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(A), (B), the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 505/1 et seq. and the Illinois Deceptive Trade Practices Act, 815 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 510/1 et seq. The case is before the Court on Strabala's motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6). For the reasons provided below, the Court grants the motion.


From March 2006 to February 2010, Gensler employed Strabala as Design Director, i.e., an architect. (Compl. ¶ 9.) While working for Gensler, Strabala worked on and participated in the design of several buildings, including the Shanghai Tower, Hess Tower, Houston Ballet Center, Three Eldridge Place in West Houston, Texas and Tesoro Corporation's headquarters. (Id. ¶¶ 10-14.)

Upon leaving the employ of Gensler, Strabala began doing business as an architect under the business name 2DEFINE Architecture, with offices in Chicago, Illinois, Shanghai, China and Seoul, South Korea. (Id. ¶ 15.) Strabala promotes his architecture business through a personal website,, and a Flickr website. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 20.) On the personal website, Strabala claims to have designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; the Nanjing Greenland Financial Center in Nanjing, China; and the Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, China. (Id. ¶ 21.) On the Flickr website, Strabala professes to have designed architectural works such as the Houston Ballet Center for Dance, Three Eldridge Place, Hess Tower, and the headquarters of the Tesoro Corporation. (Id. ¶ 22.) Gensler has sued Strabala to prevent him from maintaining that he is the origin of design of said architectural works. (Id. ¶ 50.)


On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint, drawing all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 580 (7th Cir. 2009). "[A] complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations" but must contain "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

Gensler contends that Strabala's declaration of design of the listed buildings constitutes false designation of origin and false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act and state trademark laws. The Court disagrees.

The Lanham Act states that:

Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, or any container of goods, uses in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which-

(A) is likely to cause confusion, or cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person, or

(B) in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or another person's goods, services, or commercial activities, shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he or she is likely to be damaged by such act. § 1125(a)(1); see Kennedy v. Nat'l Juvenile Detention Ass'n, 187 F.3d 690, 695-96 (7th Cir. 1999) (outlining elements of Lanham Act claim).

Gensler argues that Strabala's touting himself as the architect of the aforementioned buildings falls within the definition of false designation of origin. (Pl.'s Opp'n Def. Mot. Dismiss 4.) The Supreme Court's holding in Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 539 U.S. 23, 27 (2003), suggests otherwise. In that case, plaintiff Twentieth Century Fox sued defendant Dastar Corp. under the Lanham Act for publishing on videotape a television series that was already in the public domain without attributing the authorship of the television series back to the original author. Id. The Supreme Court noted that plaintiff's claim hinged on the definition of origin of goods and whether "origin" included the creator or author of the underlying work or just the physical goods that are made available to the public. Id. at 31 (quoting ยง 43(a)(1)(A) of the Lanham Act). The Dastar Court held that: reading the phrase "origin of goods" in the Lanham Act in accordance with the Act's common-law foundations (which were not designed to protect ...

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