King County’s troubled new juvenile justice facility in Seattle, which has already cost more than $242 million, could cost a bit more after a federal magistrate judge ruled there is evidence the county violated federal trademark laws with the name.
The county was sued last year by Northwestern University in Chicago, which claims the county’s facility, the Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC), which opened last year, appropriated its name and is trading on the good reputation of the Children and Family Justice Center at the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law in Chicago. The Northwestern CFJC has been around since 1992.
Moreover, while the Patricia H. Clark CFJC’s core facility is a controversial 122-bed youth detention center, the Bluhm clinic’s center focuses on keeping kids out of custody and providing “justice for youth threatened by the juvenile justice system or already within its grip.”
In a report and recommendation issued Thursday on a motion by the county to dismiss the lawsuit, U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Creatura found that the county had been notified as early as 2016 by Northwestern that the university was concerned the county was contemplating using the name, “Children and Family Justice Center” for a planned facility that would replace the old and rundown juvenile detention court and center with a facility that offered one-stop shopping for troubled families and youth.
John Denkenberger, a Seattle lawyer at Christensen O’Connor Johnson & Kindness, which has been hired to defend the county, said he did not have permission from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to comment.
The King County facility has been controversial, with public cries that the county should do away with youth detention altogether, a goal the county has adopted even as it spent $242 million on the new CFJC on East Alder Street in Seattle. Not only does the facility house the youth detention center, but also juvenile justice courtrooms and access to government-sponsored and private family and youth services.
Northwestern University’s CFJC provides counsel and resources to children “threatened by the juvenile justice system or already within its grip.”
“Our diverse programs and projects directly represent youth, lobby for the reform of laws that govern them, and educate them beyond the classroom,” according to its website.
According to the lawsuit, Northwestern in 2016 and again in 2019 notified the county it was concerned about reports that it was planning to use the name. The university has claimed the name as a trademark, used in its business, and that King County needed permission to use it, which Northwestern hasn’t given.
“First, because detaining youth and building facilities for that purpose conflicts with the [Northwestern University’s] CFJC’s core mission, and second, simply to
avoid confusion between Northwestern and [King County] and its new facility,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed in November.
In its pleadings, King County disputes that Northwestern holds a trademark on the name, which has never been registered. Moreover, lawyers for the county claim that services offered at the county’s CFJC are part of government function, and the statute that governs fair trade and trademarks, the 1946 Lanham Act, does not apply to government services. Northwestern argued that some of the services offered through the Patricia Clark CFJC are privately operated.
Judge Creatura found Northwestern raised legitimate issues of fact over whether Northwestern holds a trademark, given that its facility has been in operation since 1992. Moreover, the county did not commit to using the name until legislation authorizing construction of the facility was passed in 2019, and had been on notice by Northwestern of its concerns before then.
“The Court finds that [Northwestern] has sufficiently alleged that defendant uses the Contested Marks in connection with services that are not uniquely governmental functions and that are subject to liability under the Lanham Act and common law,” Creatura wrote.
The magistrate judge’s decision is not binding, and must be approved by U.S. District Judge James Robart, who is hearing the case. Both sides have two weeks in which to object to Creatura’s report.