This week, I learned that the oblong breaded meat served in my elementary school cafeteria was born in 1942 at the Texas State Fair. According to a recent lawsuit, brothers Neil “Fletch” Fletcher and Carl Fletcher invented the “corny dog” when they opened a booth at the fair. In the almost 80 years since, FLETCHER’S-branded corn dogs have become a part of the fabric of Dallas and a staple at the state fair. Neil Fletcher’s heirs now operate the company that owns the FLETCHER’S brand—which I will refer to as “the original Fletcher’s”—and deliver more than half a million “corny dogs” to fair-goers every year, while also passing out this quintessential American stick-food at stadiums, festivals, and tournaments.
Fast forward to this century, and an old-fashioned family feud has developed. In February 2019, Victoria Warner Fletcher, ex-granddaughter-in-law of Neil Fletcher (she divorced Neil Fletcher’s grandson), and her daughter Victoria Jace Fletcher Christensen (aka Jace Fletcher) began offering FLETCH-branded “artisanal corn battered franks” on a stick at the state fair, as well as at stadiums, festivals, and tournaments. Goaded into a showdown, the original Fletcher’s brought a suit in September 2019, seeking, among other things, a preliminary injunction prohibiting Victoria’s and Jace’s (“Fletch” or “Fletch’s”) use of FLETCH.
The Texas Court granted the injunction in January. In its opinion, the Court determined that the FLETCH-branded “corn battered franks” were—wait for it—corn dogs, noting that Fletch admitted to reverse-engineering its recipe from FLETCHER’S corn dogs. The Court also found that Fletch used the FLETCH trademark in bad faith, relying on its failure to correct actual confusion, evidence that Fletch allowed stadiums and other venues to think that it was the original Fletcher’s, and documentation that Victoria went so far as to direct a venue to change the contact from her prior email address at the original Fletcher’s to her Fletch email. Indeed, the intentional passing off combined with the actual confusion helped the original Fletcher’s overcome the increasingly difficult hurdle of showing the degree of irreparable harm necessary for a court to grant preliminary relief. In the end, the Court enjoined Victoria and Jace from using the trademarks FLETCHER’S, FLETCH, EAT FLETCH, and EATFLETCH.
Fletch was down but not out. A couple weeks after the injunction issued, the original Fletcher’s filed a motion seeking to hold Fletch in contempt of court. The original Fletcher’s accused Fletch of violating the injunction by, among other things, (1) placing only a transparent, mesh sign with the text “No Name Corn Dogs + Funnel Cakes” over the FLETCH sign on their brick and mortar restaurant; (2) covering other uses of FLETCH with duct tape, “but only partially so the ‘Fletch’ mark could still be easily discerned"; and (3) putting magnets specially made to look like duct tape over the FLETCH mark on their vans, again so that the mark was only partially obscured.
The Court heard the contempt motion on February 5 and, though it has not issued a written order yet, it seems that Fletch may have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. Today, the uses and other mentions of Fletch seem to have been deleted (as opposed to obscured) from Fletch’s website and social media pages, replaced by the surprisingly charming “[No Name]” and “CornDog w/ No Name.” Too bad Dallas isn’t a desert, where there ain't no one for to give you no pain.