CARL E. STEWART, Chief Judge:
Plaintiffs-Appellees Clark Baker and the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice, Inc. (the "OMSJ") brought this action against Defendant-Appellant Jeffery Todd
Clark Baker is a retired officer of the Los Angeles Police Department and a licensed private investigator. Relevant to this suit is his role as Chief Executive Officer of the OMSJ, a non-profit corporation which investigates medical and scientific corruption cases. In 2010, the OMSJ launched the website www.omsj.org to promote numerous medical, legal and investigative services for individuals involved in criminal or civil suits. One such service is the OMSJ's "HIV Innocence Group," a non-profit organization that facilitates the representation of individuals accused of the intentional or reckless infection of another person with HIV.
In 2011, DeShong launched two websites of his own: www.hivinnocencegrouptruth.com and www.hivinnocenceprojecttruth.com. According to DeShong, each was created in order to deconstruct the OMSJ's alleged misrepresentation of the effects of HIV and AIDS and allegedly false research that the OMSJ promulgated on its "HIV Innocence Group" webpage. As DeShong's website names clearly indicate, the use of the phrases "HIV Innocence Group Truth" and "HIV Innocence Project Truth" are similar to the "HIV Innocence Group" website published by the OMSJ.
Baker and the OMSJ filed the underlying action against DeShong in the District Court of the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth Division. The complaint, as amended, asserted four claims against DeShong: (1) trademark infringement under the Lanham Act; (2) trademark infringement under the Texas Business and Commerce Code; (3) defamation; and (4) business disparagement.
The district court dismissed the Lanham Act claims, concluding that even taking Baker's allegations as true, he failed to raise an inference that a reasonable person could confuse the content of DeShong's website with the OMSJ's "HIV Innocence Group" trademark. Weighing statutory and common law factors, the district court declined to exercise jurisdiction over Baker's remaining state law claims.
DeShong moved for attorney's fees under § 1117(a) of the Lanham Act in the amount of $49,706.86, which the court denied. Relying on current Fifth Circuit precedent, the district court determined that DeShong failed to show that this suit was an example of an "exceptional" case which warranted the award of attorney's fees. The court concluded that DeShong had not shown by clear and convincing evidence that Baker and the OMSJ pursued this suit in bad faith. DeShong timely appeals.
On appeal, DeShong argues that this court should (1) adopt the Supreme Court's standard in Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health and Fitness, Inc., ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1749, 188 L.Ed.2d 816 (2014), which expanded the standard under
We first address whether the district court erred in its interpretation of 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a) in denying DeShong's motion for attorney's fees under the Lanham Act. Our analysis begins with the text of § 1117(a): "The court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party." In Scott Fetzer Co. v. House of Vacuums, we held that a case is "exceptional" if brought in bad faith. 381 F.3d 477, 490 (5th Cir.2004); see also Robin Singh Educ. Servs., Inc. v. Excel Test Prep., 291 Fed.Appx. 620, 621 (5th Cir.2008). "[T]he prevailing party must demonstrate the exceptional nature of the case by clear and convincing evidence...." CJC Holdings, Inc. v. Wright & Lato, Inc., 979 F.2d 60, 65 (5th Cir. 1992).
DeShong urges this court to adopt the Supreme Court's holding in Octane Fitness, which analyzed when a district court may award fees under the "exceptional" case standard as established under the Patent Act. See 35 U.S.C. § 285; Octane Fitness, 134 S.Ct. at 1756. The Octane Fitness Court unanimously decided that the word "exceptional" does not limit the award of attorney's fees in a patent lawsuit to cases in which a party's bad faith conduct is shown by clear and convincing evidence. Octane Fitness, 134 S.Ct. at 1756. We adopt the Supreme Court's construction of "exceptional" according to its ordinary meaning:
Prior to Octane Fitness, the Federal Circuit held that patent litigants may only recover attorney's fees under § 285 with proof by clear and convincing evidence of either (1) litigation-related misconduct of an independently sanctionable magnitude or (2) a suit brought in subjective bad faith that is objectively baseless. Id. at 1754 (citing Brooks Furniture Mfg., Inc. v. Dutailier Int'l, Inc., 393 F.3d 1378, 1381 (Fed. Cir.2005)). Finding this framework inconsistent with the text of § 285, the Court embraced an expansive reading of the word "exceptional," explaining that the current standard articulated by the Federal Circuit was an inflexible framework superimposed onto statutory text that is inherently flexible. Id. at 1754, 1756 ("[T]he Federal Circuit abandoned that holistic, equitable approach in favor of a more rigid and mechanical formulation."). In fact, the Court turned to the D.C. Circuit's reading of the Lanham Act, where it held that "it [is] fair to assume that Congress did not intend rigidly to limit recovery of fees by a [Lanham Act] defendant to the rare case in which a court finds that the plaintiff `acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons' .... Something less than `bad faith' suffices to mark a case as `exceptional.'" Octane Fitness,
The Court similarly made clear that such a bad faith requirement would render § 285 superfluous: "We have long recognized a common-law exception to the general American rule against fee-shifting — an exception, inherent in the power [of] the courts that applies for `willful disobedience of a court order or when the losing party has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons.'" Id. at 1749 (alteration in original) (quotation marks omitted) (quoting Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y, 421 U.S. 240, 258-259, 95 S.Ct. 1612, 44 L.Ed.2d 141 (1975)).
Finally, the Court rejected the "clear and convincing" evidentiary hurdle established by the Federal Circuit and has yet to construe similar fee-shifting statutes as requiring proof of entitlement to fees by clear and convincing evidence. See id. at 1758 ("[N]othing in § 285 justifies such a high standard of proof. Section 285 demands a simple discretionary inquiry; it imposes no specific evidentiary burden, much less a high one.")
While Octane Fitness directly concerns the scope of a district court's discretion to award fees for an "exceptional" case under § 285 of the Patent Act, the case guides our interpretation of § 1117(a) of the Lanham Act and is instructive here. See S.Rep. No. 93-1400, at 2 (1974) (highlighting the identical language between § 285 and § 1117(a), as well as Congress' reference to § 285 in passing § 1117(a)).
Like the Patent Act, the Lanham Act's text establishes a flexible standard for whether a case is "exceptional." The text of § 1117(a), identical to § 285, says in full that "[t]he court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing
Already in this court's power is the ability to award attorney's fees for conduct that is done in bad faith. Accordingly, because this long-established American common-law rule already provides for an award in such an instance, "Congress [could not have intended] to permit the award of attorney's fees to a prevailing defendant only in a situation where the plaintiff was motivated by bad faith in bringing the action" when it enacted § 1117(a). Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n, 434 U.S. 412, 417, 419, 98 S.Ct. 694, 54 L.Ed.2d 648 (1978).
Finally, the Court has made clear its unwillingness to construe fee-shifting provisions such as § 1117(a) as requiring a clear and convincing evidence standard. See Octane Fitness, 134 S.Ct. at 1758. Because § 285 and § 1117(a) are clear "statutory equivalents," we read their nearly identical language to reflect the fact that the Court "think[s] it clear that Congress intended the same language to have the same meaning in both statutes." See, e.g., Commc'ns Workers of Am. v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735, 745-7, 108 S.Ct. 2641, 101 L.Ed.2d 634 (1988).
In light of the Supreme Court's clear guidance under § 285 — and given the parallel purpose, structure, and language of § 1117(a) to § 285 — we join our sister circuits in their reading of "exceptional" under Octane Fitness and construe the same meaning here. See Georgia-Pac. Consumer Prods. LP v. von Drehle Corp., 781 F.3d 710 (4th Cir.2015), as amended (Apr. 15, 2015) ("[T]he language of § 1117(a) and § 285 is identical, and we conclude that there is no reason not to apply the Octane Fitness standard when considering the award of attorneys fees under § 1117(a)."); Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303 (3d Cir.2014) (importing the definition of "exceptionality" into its interpretation of § [1117(a)] and holding that the district court should apply the Octane Fitness standard when considering the award of attorney's fees under this provision).
We merge Octane Fitness's definition of "exceptional" into our interpretation of § 1117(a) and construe its meaning as follows: an exceptional case is one where (1) in considering both governing law and the facts of the case, the case stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party's litigating position; or (2) the unsuccessful party has litigated the case in an "unreasonable manner." See Octane Fitness, 134 S.Ct. at 1756. The district court must address this issue "in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances." See id.
DeShong also asks us to decide whether this case merits attorney's fees under § 1117(a) in light of the Octane Fitness standard. We decline to do so because the district court has yet to decide this issue in the first instance.
We therefore REVERSE the district court's denial of attorney's fees and REMAND for reconsideration of the propriety of awarding fees to DeShong in light of the aforementioned standard.
Fair Wind Sailing, Inc. v. Dempster, 764 F.3d 303, 315 (3d Cir.2014).