Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Court says AT&T must be removed from No. 31 car

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a mandate allowing NASCAR to require the removal of AT&T logos from the No. 31 Chevrolet owned by Richard Childress Racing and driven in the Nextel Cup Series by Jeff Burton.

Tuesday's mandate was an affirmation of the 11th Circuit's unanimous decision to vacate the preliminary injunction granted to AT&T in May by U.S. District Senior Judge Marvin H. Shoob. The appeals court had ruled Aug. 13 that, because AT&T was not an intended third-party beneficiary of the "grandfather clause" that allowed Cingular to continue its sponsorship of the No. 31 car, the injunction was not valid on breach-of-contract grounds.

The grandfather clause was a provision of NASCAR's agreement with RCR that allowed Cingular to sponsor the car after NASCAR contracted with Nextel, a competitor of Cingular in the telecommunications industry, as exclusive title sponsor of the Cup Series, beginning in 2004. A series of mergers brought AT&T and Cingular together, and AT&T has implemented a comprehensive campaign to announce the rebranding of Cingular as AT&T Wireless.

AT&T's injunction request was one step in the legal process. The case proper still must be heard in District Court, as must NASCAR's $100 million counterclaim against AT&T. Nor does the 11th Circuit's decision prevent AT&T from trying to seek injunctive relief on other grounds.

"The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a mandate, which now allows NASCAR to fully enforce its agreement with series sponsor Sprint Nextel on behalf of the entire NASCAR industry," NASCAR spokesperson Ramsey Poston said. "Therefore, the 31 may only run paint schemes approved by NASCAR that are in compliance with the industry's agreement with Sprint Nextel.

"What's this mean? It means that David has won Round 2 with Goliath."

The AT&T logos remained on the car at Michigan during a weeklong grace period that would have allowed AT&T to file a request for reconsideration of the appeals court's ruling. AT&T on Monday asked for a clarification of language in the Aug. 13 decision that might have been construed to mean that the entire case was being remanded for dismissal.

The appeals court clarified the issue, indicating the case has been remanded to District Court for trial, then issued the mandate allowing NASCAR to require the removal of the logos from the car.

Barring further legal maneuvering, NASCAR expects the logos to be off the car for Saturday's race in Bristol, Tenn. Poston said NASCAR had approved a variety of paint schemes for the No. 31 car, none of which includes the AT&T logos.

Calls to Richard Childress Racing referencing the logo issue were not returned.

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