Property, intangible

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Real Party in Interest

There is an ongoing dispute between the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, more commonly known as “The Grange,” and a former chapter in California. National Grange established the California State Grange in 1873 and it registered as a California corporation in 1946. In 2012, there was a dispute between the California State Grange and the National Grange, so National Grange revoked the California Grange membership and the parties disaffiliated in 2013. California State Grange continued, under the same name, and in 2014 National Grange chartered a new chapter called The Grange of the State of California’s Order of Patrons of Husbandry, Chartered.

Needless to say lawsuits ensued; National Grange sued California State Grange and California State Grange sued the Grange of the State of California’s Order of Patrons of Husbandry, Chartered, both for trademark infringement and other claims. National Grange won, surviving a genericism challenge and one for abandonment for lack of quality control. Ultimately the disaffiliated chapter was enjoined from using the name “California State Grange.” National Grange formed a new California State Grange in 2016 to safeguard the corporate registration of the name “California State Grange” after the disaffiliated organization relinquished it.

We’re now up to the third lawsuit (fourth if you count the state court lawsuit over tangible property). This suit was filed by National Grange and “California State Grange, its chartered California chapter,” against the disaffiliated organization for the defendant’s use of the “CSG” and “formerly known as California State Grange.” (At some point the defendant’s name in the caption was changed to “California Guild,” but I couldn’t find where.)

Which is all a long wind-up to a short point. California Guild challenged the California State Grange’s standing. National Grange argued that the party known as “the California State Grange” was not either the 2014 or 2016 entities, but the original chartered chapter. The court wasn’t buying it though:

According to defendants, the California State Grange plaintiff is the incorrect corporation to bring the asserted claims in this case. The named plaintiff California State Grange is a 2016 corporation that was formed to safeguard the corporate registration of the name “California State Grange” after defendants were forced to relinquish the name in Grange I. This corporation has no bank account records and it does not collect dues. There is a separate 2014 corporation, which is not a party to this case, named the Grange of the State of California’s Order of Patrons of Husbandry Chartered which does collect dues and have bank accounts. Based on this information, defendants argue that the California State Grange party is merely a “holding corporation” for the name “California State Grange” and not the real party in interest.

In a misguided argument, plaintiffs claim that “the party in interest is the California State Grange, not a 2014 or 2016 corporation.” Plaintiffs attempt to argue that this action was brought in the name of the California State Grange, not a specific corporate entity. However, “[a] civil action can be maintained only against a legal person, i.e., a natural person or an artificial or quasi-artificial person; a nonentity is incalculable of suing or being sued.” Oliver v. Swiss Club Tell, 222 Cal. App. 2d 528, 537 (1st Dist. 1963). In this case, plaintiffs have explicitly admitted that they are not bringing this case on behalf of a specific corporation or entity. Plaintiffs cannot assert a claim on behalf of some amorphous entity vaguely known as the California State Grange. See id. Thus, the court is not convinced by plaintiffs’ argument and agrees with defendants that the California State Grange is not an appropriate plaintiff in this case. Accordingly, summary judgment will be granted in favor of defendants and against the California State Grange, and the California State Grange will be dismissed from this case.

Perhaps arguing there was a California unincorporated association known as “California State Grange” would have gotten more traction, although having a formal corporation, The Grange of the State of California’s Order of Patrons of Husbandry, Chartered, serving the same purpose might have still made that a hard position to win.

Nat’l Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry v. California Guild, No. 2:16-201 WBS DB (E.D. Cal. Aug. 13, 2018).

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