US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Opinions
Express Oil Change, L.L.C. v. Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors
Opinion Date: February 19, 2019
Judge: Jerry E. Smith
Areas of Law: Communications Law, Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Trademark
In regulating the practice of engineering, Mississippi restricts the use of the term “engineer.” Express operates automotive service centers in Mississippi and other states under the Tire Engineers mark. The Mississippi Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers & Surveyors informed Express that the name Tire Engineers violated Miss. Code 73-13-39 and requested that it change its company advertisement name. Express sought a declaratory judgment, citing Express’s “rights of commercial free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment”; and “rights under preemptive federal trademark law” under 15 U.S.C. 1051–1127. The district court granted the Board summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Board’s decision violates the First Amendment’s commercial speech protections. Because its essential character is not deceptive, Tire Engineers is not inherently misleading. The name, trademarked since 1948, apparently refers to the work of mechanics using their skills “not usu[ally] considered to fall within the scope of engineering” to solve “technical problems” related to selecting, rotating, balancing, and aligning tires. Nor is the name actually misleading. Because the name is potentially misleading, the Board’s asserted interests are substantial but the record does not support the need for a total ban on the name. Other states with similar statutes have not challenged the use of the trademark and the Board did not address why less-restrictive means, such as a disclaimer, would not accomplish its goal.
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