Monday, May 2, 2005
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the jury verdict in the case of Century Martial Art Supply v. National Association of Professional Martial Artists and International Ikon, Inc.,, originally filed in the Western District of Oklahoma. Century claimed among other things that NAPMA and IKON had engaged in "defamation, tortious interference with existing and/or prospective business relationship, deceptive trade practices, and unfair competition."
Century sells martial arts supplies to martial arts schools, many of which are members of NAPMA. In 2001, NAPMA began marketing rival products to its members "under the IKON brand name." In its mailings to its members "it included a chart which compared three IKON uniforms with three Century uniforms....The information about Century's unifrom was false and the discount information was misleading." As a result, Century's sales began declining. "The President/CEO of Century contacted Graden to ask that he stop publishing inaccurate information about Century's uniforms. Graden responded that `he would print whatever he wanted; it was his magazine.'" Some of the information from the comparison chart was reprinted in an e-mail NAPMA sent to its web-site subscribers. In turn, that e-mail was reprinted in Graden's Martial Arts Professional magazine. NAPMA repeated the allegations about the fabric content (cotton/polyester percentages) and weight of Century's uniforms but noted that Century stated these figures were false....The e-mail also stated `If the comparison is inaccurate, a letter from Century is all that is needed. Instead they use the profits that they get from the industry to attack us...We receive weekly calls saying Century is out to get us. I guess this is the first shot. What is Century afraid of?'....Century indicated at trial that it already had sent such a letter when these statement[sic] were made."
The 10th Circuit noted that the jury found for the plaintiff "on all four claims and found the evidence that the defendants acted with reckless disregard was clear and convincing. The jury award Century both compensatory and punitive damages." It rejected the defendants' claims on appeal that the district court "erred in permitting the jury to consider privileged or constitutionally protected statements in support of Century's claims", finding that "were we to consider these belated defenses now, it would be Century who could claim a miscarriage of justice. Century prepared for trial and presented evidence without anyn otice from defendant that reference to statements made by Graden would violate his First Amendment rights or were in some way protected by statutory privilege." The appellate court was also unconvinced by defendants-appellants' other arguments. Read the 10th circuit's opinion here.