A McLennan County judge has ruled that Baylor University does not have to disclose certain documents requested by the Baylor Alumni Association as part of the trademark infringement lawsuit the university filed against the alumni group.
Judge Gary Coley Jr. of McLennan County’s 74th State District Court denied the BAA’s motion to compel Baylor to produce certain licensing agreements the university has with other entities as part of the discovery phase of the lawsuit, in which both sides share evidence and records.
Coley also approved Baylor’s motion for entry of a standard confidentiality agreement and protective order that would prevent discovery items from being shared publicly without approval from the court.
The BAA’s attorneys initially proposed that agreement but later pushed for changes after the alumni association’s leaders expressed concerns that the original terms would have barred BAA officers from sharing information about the lawsuit with the group’s 17,000 members.
Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said the university is pleased with the ruling but declined further comment.
The BAA was seeking copies of licensing agreements Baylor has with other entities, such as the Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor Scott & White Health Care and the Baylor College of Dentistry, to see whether those agreements are considered perpetual.
Baylor in December 2013 moved to terminate its licensing agreements with the BAA, arguing that the university had the authority to unilaterally sever the agreement.
But Austin attorney Shannon Ratliff, who is representing the BAA in the lawsuit, said, “We already know from some answers to discovery that there are at least two (licensing agreements) that are like ours, in that they’re perpetual and they don’t have a termination date on them.”
Ratliff previously said the existence of similar licensing agreements would indicate that Baylor has singled out the BAA to end the organization’s ability to function as an independent alumni group.
The licensing agreement was terminated three months after BAA members did not pass a transition agreement that would have dissolved its charter, allowed Baylor to take over all of its alumni outreach functions and created a new Baylor Line Corp. through which the organization could still print its Baylor Line alumni magazine.
Baylor filed the lawsuit in June 2014, weeks after the BAA published its first Baylor Line issue in the aftermath of the transition agreement, charging that the alumni group was improperly using the university’s name and trademarks.
The trial is expected to begin in January 2016.
But Coley ruled that Baylor must fully respond to certain questions BAA posed in an interrogatory questionnaire as part of its discovery requests. One of the questions asks Baylor to provide copies of communication with BAA leaders detailing what licensing agreement terms the alumni group breached, prompting Baylor to give notice of its intent to terminate the agreement.
BAA leaders have argued that Baylor did not give written notice of violations, nor did it grant the organization 90 days to rectify them, in accordance with the licensing agreement.
Another question seeks details from the university on why Baylor has labeled the BAA a “charitable trust,” a designation the association said conflicts with its status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
If the BAA is deemed a legal trust, a judge can order a reformation of its organization duties. Baylor is seeking a ruling through the lawsuit to reform or limit the BAA “to the provision of financial aid to Baylor and Baylor students.”
“We have no clue why they would claim we are a trust, when we’ve never been described as a trust before,” Ratliff said. “But they’ve done it in this lawsuit, I assume, because they think gives them some tactical advantage or legal advantage.”