The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 and therefore dismissed an appeal of a district court decision staying a federal action pending state court litigation between the parties. Window World Int.’l, LLC et al. v. O’Toole et al., Case No. 21-1108 (8th Cir. Jan. 7, 2022) (Loken, Colloton, Benton, JJ.).
Window World International owns registered trademarks for the marketing of exterior remodeling products, such as custom-made vinyl windows. Window World distributes products through 200 independently owned and operated franchisees, including Window World of St. Louis, Inc. and Window World of Springfield-Peoria, Inc., companies co-owned by James T. Lomax III (collectively, the Lomax parties). Window World sublicenses its franchisees to use its trademarks.
In January 2015, the Lomax parties and other Window World franchisees sued Window World in the North Carolina Business Court. The Lomax parties alleged that Window World failed to make franchise disclosures required by federal and state law. They also asserted claims of fraud and breach of contract. In April 2019, the Lomax parties sent letters to Window World customers making several misrepresentations about Window World’s product warranty. Window World commenced action in federal court, asserting causes of action under the Lanham Act for false advertising, trademark infringement, unfair competition and dilution of a famous mark.
The Lomax parties moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim or stay the federal action pursuant to the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. US, which held that the interests of effective judicial administration may lead a federal court to reject taking jurisdiction in a case involving a concurrent state proceeding. Window World opposed the dismissal and stay requests. The district court dismissed several of Window World’s claims but ruled that it had a plausible trademark infringement and unfair competition claim and denied dismissal as to those claims. The district court also stayed the federal action pending determination of the scope of the claims regarding the protected marks in the North Carolina litigation. Window World appealed.
The Eighth Circuit found that the issued stay order was neither a final order under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 nor a collateral interlocutory order that may be appealed. As a result, the Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. In doing so, the Court explained that an order staying civil proceedings is interlocutory and not ordinarily a final decision for purposes of § 1291. However, if the stay effectively ends the litigation, then the order is final and jurisdiction under § 1291 is proper. Here, the Court concluded that the lower court’s stay was not a final order because the order contemplated further litigation in federal court. Additionally, the stay was not a final order merely because it had the practical effect of allowing a state court to be the first to rule on common issues. Therefore, the Court concluded that the stay order was not appealable as a final order and dismissed the appeal.