Man sued over sign that raised money for wounded Pa. trooper
Nolan Kemmerer made a sign to help raise money for Cpl. Seth Kelly, who was critically wounded in November, but never did he think he’d get sued over it
By Riley Yates
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Pa. — When a Pennsylvania state trooper was critically wounded in November in a shooting on Route 33 in Plainfield Township, Nolan Kemmerer wanted to do something to help.
The owner of a sign business in the township, Kemmerer came up with a way to raise money for Cpl. Seth Kelly: He created a yard sign with an American flag, a thin blue line for police solidarity and the hashtag “PSPStrong.”
All told, Kemmerer said he printed 2,800 of the signs and offered them for $10 apiece, agreeing to donate the money he received directly to Kelly to help during his recovery.
Never, Kemmerer said Monday, did he think he’d get sued over it.
“Just trying to do the right thing, and I got slapped in the face,” Kemmerer said.
The slap Kemmerer says he felt came from a small Luzerne County nonprofit that supports state troopers and their families, the PSP Strong Association, which sued him last week in county court in Wilkes-Barre, alleging trademark infringement.
The lawsuit charges that Kemmerer and his company, Rapid Wraps N’ Signs, improperly used the nonprofit’s name and likeness, in violation of trademark law. It seeks an injunction and more than $50,000 in damages.
To Kemmerer’s attorney, Andrew Bench, it proves the adage that, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
But to the president of the nonprofit, Danielle Petros, that saying cuts both ways. As the head of an all-volunteer group founded after two troopers were ambushed in 2014 outside the Blooming Grove barracks, Petros said the last thing she wanted to do was file a lawsuit, but had no choice after Kemmerer refused to sign paperwork agreeing not to use the name.
“It is frustrating. It stinks,” said Petros, the wife of a state trooper. “We’re going to lose volunteers here. It makes us look bad.”
Petros said she doesn’t question that Kemmerer’s heart was in the right place. But that still doesn’t allow him to raise money using the nonprofit’s name, she said she told him during a phone call in December.
“He took it personally. He got really mad,” Petros said. “I said, ‘You’re taking this as a personal attack and it’s not.’”
The dispute ratcheted from that phone call, to a cease-and-desist letter, to a summons threatening a lawsuit, to the lawsuit itself.
Kemmerer said he had no idea the PSP Strong Association existed before he was contacted by it. Kemmerer and his attorney said that after the cease-and-desist request, he immediately stopped selling and making the signs, but balked at signing a written settlement agreement, believing it was inappropriate.
“Nolan said, ‘Why are you guys pushing me like that? It’s not right. If you want to file a lawsuit, file a lawsuit,’” Bench said.
Kemmerer said that even with his fundraising stopped short, he was able to give $19,000 to Kelly, who spent nearly a month in the hospital. The money represented 100 percent of the proceeds after deducting what it cost to make the signs, Kemmerer said.
“I was doing this out of the kindness of my heart for this officer,” Kemmerer said.
While the brawl certainty pits two sides who believe they are doing the right thing against each other, it also involves a key legal question: whether the nonprofit holds an enforceable trademark.
Bench, Kemmerer’s attorney, notes that though the PSP Strong Association is seeking a registered trademark from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, its application was rejected in 2015, a decision the nonprofit is appealing. According to an examiner’s opinion, PSP Strong was too similar to PSP, a trademark already held by Sony, which makes the PlayStation Portable video game system.
The lawsuit against Kemmerer does not go into that history, saying only that the nonprofit has what it called a “live trademark” for PSP Strong.
The suit, by Thomas Killino of Luzerne County, says the PSP Strong Association incorporated as a nonprofit in March 2015, and is the registered owner in Pennsylvania of the name “PSP Strong,” using that term prominently in its fundraising and marketing, including in the sale of T-shirts and other memorabilia.
Killino did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment.
Ultimately, questions of trademark are for a courtroom. In the meantime, each side is accusing the other of being unreasonable.
Petros said that without a written agreement, she worries Kemmerer could start producing the signs again, say on the one-year anniversary of Kelly’s shooting.
“Why not just sign the paper, just agree to stop?” she said. “That’s all we’re asking: Put it in writing.”
Bench said the nonprofit went way too far when it decided to file a lawsuit.
“I thought it was ridiculous,” Bench said. “Personally, as an attorney, I believe it is absurd.”
©2018 The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.