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Trader Joe’s wins round in legal battle with ‘Pirate Joe’s’

Crew members fill the shelves at the Trader Joe’s in Bellingham before it opened for business Sept. 28, 2007. It’s the Trader Joe’s closest to the U.S.-Canadian border in Washington state.
Crew members fill the shelves at the Trader Joe’s in Bellingham before it opened for business Sept. 28, 2007. It’s the Trader Joe’s closest to the U.S.-Canadian border in Washington state. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

A U.S. court has the authority to hear a trademark lawsuit by grocery chain Trader Joe’s against a man who purchased the company’s products and resold them in Canada at “Pirate Joe’s,” a store designed to mimic a real Trader Joe’s, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court’s decision to dismiss California-based Trader Joe’s federal trademark claims.

The district court in Washington state said it lacked authority to hear those claims because the defendant’s alleged trademark violations occurred in Canada and Trader Joe’s had failed to clearly explain how they affected U.S. commerce.

The 9th Circuit said defendant Michael Hallatt’s conduct could harm Trader Joe’s reputation, decreasing the value of its U.S.-held trademarks.

Circuit Judge Morgan Christen also pointed out that Hallatt bought the Trader Joe’s goods he resold in Washington state.

A call to Hallatt’s attorney, Nathan Alexander, was not immediately returned.

Trader Joe’s does not have stores in Canada. The company sued Hallatt in 2013, alleging he drove across the border to a Trader Joe’s store in Washington state, bought the company’s products and resold them at higher prices at his Vancouver store.

A Trader Joe’s store refused to sell to Hallatt, but he put on disguises to avoid detection, shopped at other stores as far away as California and hired others to shop for him, the company said in its lawsuit. It estimated Hallatt had spent more than $350,000 on its products.

Hallatt said his business was lawful. He provided a service to Canadians who wanted Trader Joe’s products but didn’t want to go through the trouble of traveling to the U.S. to get them.

In court documents responding to the lawsuit, Hallatt said he never represented himself as an authorized reseller of Trader Joe’s products or as an affiliate of Trader Joe’s.

The 9th Circuit sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings.

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