By Wendy Biddle, J.D.
Interpretation of standards is an opinion and cannot be considered deceptive or false under the Lanham Act.
A manufacturer of unitary electric heaters for HVAC systems was unable to state Lanham Act and Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act claims against a competitor or Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) for allegedly misrepresenting that the competitor’s UE heaters complied with UL standards. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta held that determining the conformance of a product with a UL standard requires UL to interpret the standard and that opinion, if made in good faith, was not deceptive or considered false (Warren Technology, Inc. v. UL LLC, June 22, 2020, Ginsburg, D.).
Warren Technology, Inc. and Tutco, LLC, both manufacture UE heaters for HVAC systems made by Carrier Corporation. UL tests products and authorized the manufacturer to use its certification mark to indicate a product complies with the applicable standard. Warren alleged that Tutco’s UE heaters are required by the UL 1995 to contain a non-self-resetting thermal cutoff which shuts down the heater once dangerously high temperatures are reached and keeps it shut down until its reset by a HVAC technician. Warren alleged that UL certified the Tutco UE heaters that lacked that cutoff and therefore did not comply with UL 1995, which Warren alleged was a misrepresentation and deceptive act.
The district court granted Tutco and UL’s joint motion to dismiss, finding that Warren lacked "convincing authority" that it had the right to challenge UL’s interpretation of its own standards in a Lanham Act false advertising claim, FDUTP claim, and common law unfair competition claim. Warren appealed.
All of Warren’s claims stem from the assertion that UL and Tutco misrepresented facts, that UL’s certification of Tutco’s heaters (as well as Tutco’s advertising and sale of its heaters) as UL 1995 compliant was false because they lacked the NSRT cutoffs Warren alleged are required by clause 30.16 of UL 1995. The court noted that the district court was correct not to accept as true Warren’s assertion regarding the proper interpretation of UL 1995. Conformance of a product with a UL standard certainly requires that UL interpret and apply the standard. Warren’s allegation that UL’s authorization to Tutco to use the UL mark as a misrepresentation of the standard. But the court found that if it was anything, it was a misinterpretation and that misinterpretation, does not equal a falsity or deceptive act as required by the Lanham Act. This was simply a matter of opinion and generally not actionable.
Had Warren claimed that UL failed to meets its own standard of testing, or that it interpreted the UL 1995 inconsistently over time, or applied the standard inconsistently to Warren and Tutco, then maybe Warren would have an actionable claim, but from the facts presented, the court found that the district court did not err in dismissing the claim and affirmed the lower court’s decision.
The case is No. 18-14976.
Attorneys: Andrew R. Herron (Homer Bonner Jacobs, PA) and Bruce Stephen Rogow (Bruce S. Rogow, PA) for Warren Technology, Inc. Francis A. Citera (Greenberg Traurig, LLP) and David Axelman (Bryan Cave, LLP) for UL LLC and Tutco, LLC.
Companies: Warren Technology, Inc.; UL LLC; Tutco, LLC
MainStory: TopStory Advertising StateUnfairTradePractices AlabamaNews FloridaNews GeorgiaNews GCNNews
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