116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
After a federal judge last month sided with Iowa State University students who accused administrators of violating their free-speech rights by rescinding approval of a T-shirt design, and changing school policy, the victorious students vowed to go back to the shirt-design drawing board.
'I can't wait to see what new T-shirt designs we come up with,” ISU student Paul Gerlich said at the time about the U.S. District Court's decision barring administrators from using trademark policy to prevent his student marijuana-advocacy group from creating shirts depicting both ISU logos and marijuana leaves.
But, earlier this week, ISU administrators appealed the district court ruling, and on Friday they asked the court to halt its proceedings on damages and its enforcement of the prohibition to use trademark policy against the ISU chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Doing so, according to ISU, would maintain the status quo and protect everyone involved until the case is resolved.
'The effect of the order and injunction would be to compel (Iowa State) to license ISU trademarks to be co-branded with other non-university trademarks” -- like the marijuana leaf standard in the NORML logo, according to ISU's 'motion to stay.”
The marijuana symbol, according to ISU, is widely associated with illicit drug use and legislative proposals to legalize marijuana, which ISU is prohibited from endorsing. Further, the court ruling doesn't clearly limit the manner or use of ISU trademarks, risking damage to the university's brand and hindering its efforts 'to attract prospective students, private and governmental support, new faculty and staff, and to encourage alumni participation and support,” according to the motion.
If Iowa State is forced to license its trademarks to the ISU chapter of NORML, it could not easily recall 'those messages and goods” should an appellate court reverse the district court's decision.
'Monetary damages simply could not compensate defendants and ISU for this kind of harm,” according to the motion.
And ISU's defendants - which include ISU President Steven Leath - argue there is a 'reasonable” chance of a reversal.
'There is substantial ground for difference of opinion, and thus a reasonable likelihood of success,” according to the motion.
But attorney Robert Corn-Revere disagreed. He is the attorney representing ISU students Erin Furleigh and Paul Gerlich, who filed the original lawsuit against ISU administrators in July 2014.
'I wouldn't hold my breath about the possibility the motion might be granted,” Corn-Revere said.
The district court judge, he said, has found 'no substantial ground for difference of opinion” and that a public university's trademarks are not protected as 'government speech.”
The students, who have been fighting this battle with Iowa State since administrators rescinded the group's T-shirt designs in 2012 following pressure from state politicians, said they're not surprised by the appeal.
'We look forward to the appellate court confirming Judge (James) Gritzer's well-reasoned holding that any reasonable public official would have understood that ISU's politically motivated actions toward NORML ISU violated the First Amendment,” Corn-Revere said.
Students filed the lawsuit after they said administrators responded to concerns from politicians by rescinding approval of NORML ISU T-shirts depicting both Cy, the ISU mascot, and a marijuana leaf. The university also removed the group's adviser, rewrote its trademark guidelines, and required NORML to go through a different - more stringent - approval process than other student organizations.
The U.S. District Court in its ruling last month agreed that ISU administrators 'took action specifically directed at NORML ISU based on their views and the political reaction to those views so that (Iowa State) could maintain favor with Iowa political figures.”
The judge also denied the administrators 'qualified immunity,” meaning they could be held personally liable for violating student rights.