June 1, 2010 - 12:15am
Determination of Ambiguity in a Comparative Advertising Case is a Question of Fact Posted by: Administrator


In Solo Inc. v. Chapin Mfg., Inc., the plaintiff Solo, a manufacturer of backpack sprayers used for applying chemicals to lawn and gardens, sued Chapin, a competitor, in the EDVA for false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act.  The complaint alleged that Chapin made false or misleading statements of fact when comparing the functions of its sprayers to the models manufactured by Solo.  Some of the statements Solo accused of being false were that certain features of Chapin's backpack sprayers were exclusive to its brand, that Solo's sprayers leaked, and that Solo's sprayers lacked a reserve tank, among others.  Chapin brought a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, claiming the statements made were not sufficient to support a false advertising claim because they were ambiguous and therefore could not, as a matter of law, be false.  Prior to this case, the Fourth Circuit had not expressly held that the determination of ambiguity in a false advertising case involved a question of fact.


Analyzing numerous lines of caselaw, and recognizing a trend in the Fourth Circuit toward this view, the Court held that the issue of whether an advertising statement is ambiguous must involve a determination as to its meaning, and that determining the meaning of a statement is a question left for the finder of fact.  The fact finder must balance the plausible meanings of an advertising claim to determine if the literal falsity element was satisfied.  Here, the Court concluded that all but one of Solo's claims were sufficiently pled to withstand the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.