Federal court dismisses Chief logo lawsuit

Federal court dismisses Chief logo lawsuit

URBANA – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by Jack Davis, the designer of the Chief Illiniwek logo, against the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.

Davis' lawyer said the fight may not be over.

U.S. Central District of Illinois Chief Judge Michael McCuskey dismissed the suit Monday, ruling that the federal court has no jurisdiction for the breach-of-contract claim by Davis.

In 1980, Davis, a graphics designer and UI graduate, created the circle-shaped logo featuring an image of an American Indian man in headdress and chest plate. He was paid $210 by the university for the logo. Davis agreed that the university not be charged any royalties for the logo except for reimbursement for his expenses.

In February 2007, the UI trustees announced that in order to comply with rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association against American Indian imagery, the image of Chief Illiniwek would no longer be used by the university.

"We're satisfied with the outcome," said university spokeswoman Robin Kaler. As to whether the ruling will put the issue to rest, she said, "if it does not, I can tell you we look forward to defending the issue. We have a completely defensible case."

In March 2007, Davis applied for a trademark for the logo and was rejected. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled the university already had registered the logo.

Bob Auler, who filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of Davis, said it may be possible to file the lawsuit in another jurisdiction.

"We are certainly not going to give up, whether it's with another court or direct appeal," Auler said. "The Chief is not easily defeated."

Davis sued the university in January, claiming there had been an oral agreement with former UI associate athletic director Vance Redfern that if the logo was rejected or discontinued by the trustees, it would revert to Davis.

Davis claimed in his suit that since the UI trustees formally declared that the university would officially abandon all future use of the logo, as well as the names "Chief Illiniwek" and "Chief," the logo rights were his, based on the oral agreement.

Davis sought federal court orders that he was the sole owner of the logo known as "Chief Illiniwek" or "The Chief" and that he had rights to the word marks when used on goods or services in conjunction with the logo.

Davis also sought court rulings compelling the university to withdraw objections to his trademark application and barring interference from the university over his use of the logo and word marks.

He also claimed that he is entitled to an accounting of the UI trustees' profits from the logo since March 13, 2007.

McCuskey ruled that he does not have jurisdiction over Davis' case, ruling that Davis failed to assert any infringement of trademark law, but that he merely alleged a breach of contract.

In April this year, attorneys for the UI filed a motion to dismiss Davis' suit, arguing that the federal court does not have jurisdiction over a contract dispute.

"This court also agrees with the (UI) that this court does not have jurisdiction over (Davis') constitutional claim because (Davis) is essentially seeking an adjudication of his contract rights," McCuskey said in his ruling.

The judge said the Seventh Circuit Appellate Court recently ruled there is no basis for federal jurisdiction based on a breach of contract, even though a plaintiff claims rights of due process were violated.

McCuskey also agreed with the UI that there is no First Amendment right-of-expression violation.

Furthermore, the UI argued and McCuskey agreed, the claims by Davis are barred by immunity laws that prohibit suits against the state.

In the meantime, the UI is planning to offer some Chief Illiniwek merchandise, such as hats and shirts, for sale through the company College Vault, which licenses vintage university logos. Kaler said the items will be sold online only.

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