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Mom and pop store can’t proceed pro se in Coach trademark lawsuit

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The owners of a southern Indiana general store accused in a federal lawsuit of selling knockoff high-end Coach-brand products may not represent pro se their incorporated general store named in the suit.

New York-based Coach Inc. sued Dyer’s General Store and Outlet in Worthington, also naming its owners, Kimberly and David Dyer. The suit, filed three months ago, claims an investigator hired by Coach purchased a counterfeit wristlet bearing a Coach trademark at the store and observed handbags and accessories that “had trademarks for high-end brands including, but not limited to, Coach.”  

The suit seeks damages and fees for alleged Lanham Act violations including trademark counterfeiting, trademark infringement and false advertising; common law trademark infringement, unfair competition, forgery, counterfeiting and unjust enrichment.

“Coach is suffering irreparable injury, has suffered substantial damages as a result of Defendants’ activities,” the suit alleges. The case in the District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division, is Coach, Inc. and Coach Services, Inc. v. Dyer’s General Store and Outlet, Kimberly Dyer, and David L. Dyer, 2:13-cv-0411.

David Dyer filed a pro se response in which he said Dyer’s doesn’t deny the allegations but believed the products it bought and sold were “designer inspired” and that the store has since removed the items and worked with Coach “with the desire to resolve all concerns with promptness and diligence.”

But District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson on Tuesday ordered the corporate entity to appear by counsel and file an answer to Coach’s complaint by March 13.

“The Court notes that corporations cannot appear pro se, but must appear through an attorney,” she wrote, citing Nocula v. UGS Corp., 520 F.3d 719, 725 (7th Cir. 2008). The Dyers may represent themselves, but “Dyer’s General cannot represent itself and the Dyers cannot represent Dyer’s General either.”

Dyer’s is the latest Indiana retailer sued in federal court as Coach pursues an aggressive defense of its intellectual property, asserting in the suit that its marks “are widely recognized and exclusively associated by consumers, the public and the trade as being high quality products sourced from Coach, and have acquired a strong secondary meaning.”

Since 2009, Coach has filed at least 21 lawsuits against retailers in Indiana federal courts. Just two, including the suit against Dyer’s, remain open.
 

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