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Citigroup Inc. v. Citithankyou.com

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

December 12, 2014

CITIGROUP INC., Plaintiff,
v.
CITITHANKYOU.COM, et al., Defendants

For Citigroup Inc., Plaintiff: Charles Bennett Molster, III, LEAD ATTORNEY, Winston & Strawn LLP, Washington, DC.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Thomas Rawles Jones, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the court on plaintiff Citigroup Inc.'s motion for default judgment (no. 14) against the following four defendant domain names: < citibankthankyourewards.com>, < citithankyou.com>, < citicardthankyou.com>, and < thankyoucitibank.com> (collectively, " defendant domain names"). Plaintiff seeks in rem injunctive relief in the form of a transfer of the four defendant domain names into the ownership and control of Citigroup Inc. See Compl., No. 1.

On July 9, 2014, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that defendant domain names are involved in unlawful cybersquatting in violation of the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (" ACPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d). Plaintiff sent copies of the complaint by email and Federal Express to the registrants of the defendant domain names pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(2)(A)(ii)(II)(aa). Molster Aff. ¶ 2, No. 17.

On July 22, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion for an order allowing service by publication, which this court granted on July 23, 2014. Nos. 6, 8. Pursuant to the July 23 order and 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d)(2)(A)(ii)(II)(bb), plaintiff was required to publish a copy of the order in The Washington Post once within fourteen (14) days of its entry. The order stated that any answer or response to the complaint was due within twenty (20) days of the date of publication in The Washington Post . Accordingly, on July 28, 2014, plaintiff timely published notice of this action in The Washington Post . Molster Aff. Ex. 1, No. 9-1. To date, no answer or other pleading has been filed in response to the complaint and the time to do so has expired. On October 6, 2014, the Clerk entered default. No. 16. Upon consideration of plaintiff's motion and the memorandum in support thereof, the magistrate judge makes findings as follows and recommends that default judgment be entered in plaintiff's favor against the four defendant domain names.

Fact Summary

The following facts are established by the complaint and by plaintiff's affidavit in support of default judgment.

Plaintiff is a leading provider of financial services in the United States and throughout the world. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff also offers credit cards that are referred to as the " Citi Thank You Preferred Card" and the " Citi Thank You Premier Card" and promotes these credit cards on its website. Compl. ¶ 15, Ex. 9. Plaintiff operates its internet banking and other financial services through the domain names < citi.com>, < citibank.com>, < citibankonline.com>, and < citicards.com> . Compl. ¶ 1.

Plaintiff owns federally registered trademarks and service marks CITI, [1] CITIBANK, [2] and CITI THANKYOU[3] (collectively, the " CITI Marks") in addition to an extensive family of marks composed of or featuring the CITI Marks. Compl. ¶ ¶ 1, 10-13. Plaintiff uses the CITI THANKYOU mark to promote its credit card services and its consumer rewards program associated with its banking and consumer credit services. Compl. ¶ 14. Plaintiff operates, advertises and promotes its rewards program through its top-level registered domain name < thankyou.com> . Compl. ¶ 14, Ex. 8. Prior to the acts challenged under this action, plaintiff spent substantial sums advertising the CITI Marks. Compl. ¶ 1. Plaintiff has made extensive use of the CITI Marks by registering them and providing its services in approximately 200 countries throughout the world. Compl. ¶ ¶ 16-18. As a result, the CITI Marks represent to the worldwide consuming public plaintiff's goods and services. Compl. ¶ 17.

Plaintiff alleges that defendant domain names unlawfully and without permission incorporate its registered CITI Marks. Compl. ¶ ¶ 5, 20. Each of the defendant domain names consists of the element " CITI, " " CITIBANK, " or " CITI THANKYOU" coupled with the elements " CARD" or " THANKYOU" or " REWARDS." Compl. ¶ 20. Plaintiff asserts that the defendant domain names are confusingly similar to and violate its exclusive trademark and service mark rights in the CITI Marks. Compl. ¶ 20.

The defendant domain names are registered to and maintained by one or more anonymous foreign registrants under foreign addresses through domain registrars located in China and Panama. Compl. ¶ ¶ 2, 5, Exs. 1-4.[4] Subsequent to plaintiff's registration of the CITI Marks and without consent, the registrants registered or acquired the defendant domain names, Compl. ¶ 19.

All of the defendant domain names redirect consumers to websites that advertise and promote products and services that compete with plaintiffs products and services, Compl. ¶ 21. Each of the websites also mimics plaintiff's rewards program website in a manner that is likely to deceive consumers. Compl. ¶ 21, Exs. 10-13. For example, the website linked to the domain name < citibankthankyourewards.com> purports to allow consumers to access their " Citi Thankyou Rewards, " or to " Redeem Reward Points, " which are prominent features of plaintiffs rewards program website. Compl. ¶ 21, Ex. 10. Upon information and belief, plaintiff alleges that the registrants of the defendant domain names receive a financial benefit each time an internet user accesses the websites affiliated with the defendant domain names. Compl. ¶ 22. The content appearing at these websites is beyond plaintiffs control and is likely to cause confusion among consumers. Compl. ¶ 23.

Plaintiff alleges that the registrants of these domain names have a bad faith intent to profit from their unauthorized use of the CITI Marks by diverting consumers from plaintiff's authorized websites to sites accessible under the defendant domain names, thereby harming the goodwill represented by plaintiffs CITI Marks for commercial gain and creating a likelihood of confusion as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of the sites. Compl. ¶ 26. Upon information and belief, the registrants have no trademark or other intellectual property rights in the defendant domain names and the defendant domain names do not consist of the legal name of the registrants or a name that is otherwise commonly used to identify the registrants. Compl. ¶ 27. Upon information and belief, the registrants have made no prior use of the defendant domain names in connection with the bona fide offering of any goods or services. Compl. ¶ 27. Plaintiff has suffered, and continues to suffer, irreparable harm to its reputation and goodwill as a result of the registration and ongoing use of the defendant domain names. Compl. ¶ 29.

To date, neither the registrants nor any other potential interested party has responded to this lawsuit. Therefore, plaintiff request the court order VeriSign, Inc., to transfer the domain names from their current registrar accounts to CSC Corporate Domains, Inc. (" CSC") and CSC to register the ...


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