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Appeals court denies injunction for Schlafly trusts

A federal appeals court has denied injunctive relief to the trusts of the late conservative activist and Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly in an intellectual property dispute sparked by a schism between her adult children involving future control of the organization.

On May 22, a three-judge panel from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower-court decision which denied preliminary injunctive relief for the Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust, the Eagle Trust Fund and the Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund.

The events of the underlying dispute occurred in the months leading to Schlafly’s death in September 2016, according to the opinion written by Judge Jane Kelly. Judges Duane Benton and Michael J. Melloy concurred with the ruling.

During her lifetime, Schlafly founded several nonprofit entities and associated trusts, including the Eagle Forum, the Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust, the Eagle Trust Fund and the Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund. Her adult children held leadership roles in the various entities, Kelly said in the opinion.

Kelly said a rift developed among the siblings and other Eagle Forum officials in 2016, when Schlafly’s youngest daughter, Anne Cori, as well as five other Eagle Forum board members, voted April 11 to remove Ed Martin from his role as president of the Eagle Forum and to appoint board member Eunice Smith as president and Cori as the organization’s executive director.

On one side was Cori, backed by Smith, Cathie Adams, Carolyn McLarty, Rosina Kovar and Shirley Curry. The group became known as the “gang of six,” Kelly said.

Schlafly’s eldest son, John Schlafly, supported Martin and objected to the vote to oust him.

In response, Schlafly amended trust documents to remove Cori as trustee of the revocable trust. The same day of that change, the gang of six sued Martin, John Schlafly and the Eagle Forum in Madison County, Illinois, alleging they were wrongly blocked from accessing the Eagle Forum’s property and headquarters.

A judge in Madison County issued a temporary restraining order to stop John Schlafly and Martin from blocking their access.

In August 2016, Schlafly again amended trust documents to state that the right to license all of her intellectual property including “her name, persona and likeness” associated with the Eagle Forum and other entities, would be given to the trustees of another trust not involved in the dispute. She died six days later.

Prior to Schlafly’s death, the gang of six sued John Schlafly and Martin alleging they were infringing on the Eagle Forum’s intellectual property.

In October 2016, the trusts responded by filing suit in the Eastern District of Missouri against the gang of six, alleging they were the ones infringing. That suit is the case before the 8th Circuit.

A day after the trusts filed suit, the Madison County judge found that John Schlafly and Martin violated the temporary restraining order and allowed the gang of six to “assume temporary sole control and possession over all Eagle Forum property,” including some of the intellectual property at issue in the Eastern District of Missouri suit.

In November, the trusts filed a motion in the Eastern District of Missouri for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against the gang of six for their use of the intellectual property.

U.S. District Judge John A. Ross denied the motion, as well as a second similar motion. The trusts appealed the decision.

Ross explained in his decision that preliminary injunctive relief was not warranted because the trusts had not shown that a monetary award would be an inadequate remedy, Kelly said.

On appeal, the trusts argued that they are entitled to the presumption that they would be irreparably harmed without an injunction because they have shown they are likely to succeed on their trademark-infringement case, she said.

Kelly said that recent Supreme Court cases are muddled on the issue, “but regardless, the trusts would not be entitled to such a presumption, because they did not promptly seek preliminary injunctive relief concerning the alleged trademark infringement.”

Attorneys from Armstrong Teasdale in St. Louis are representing the trusts. Erik Solverud of Spencer Fane in St. Louis is representing the gang of six. Both declined to comment.

The case is Phyllis Schlafly Revocable Trust et al. v. Cori et al., 17-2115.