Dino M. Zaffina's case against the Southern California Darts Association officially collapsed last week — a little more than two years after Zaffina attempted to seize the organization's name for himself.
Not only did a federal judge issue a permanent injunction barring Zaffina from ever again using the name, but he ordered him to either destroy or turn over all the marketing materials he'd created using it. He also ordered the one-eyed Hollywood soundman to pay $115,705 in legal fees, plus court costs.
Such awards are only made in “exceptional” cases — instances in which a judge believes someone is “willfully infringing” on an organization's trademark.
Tim Hennessy, an attorney at Kawahito Shraga & Westrick, which fought Zaffina on behalf of the darts players, called the conclusion to the case “a fair and just result,” adding, “It is good to know that the historic Southern California Darts Association can continue to organize and promote competitive dart play in Southern California, on both a local and international level, as it has done for the past 50 years.”
Indeed, the darts association had existed without controversy for decades — only to find its existence threatened, and its members sued, by Zaffina, a darts enthusiast who'd become angry after the organization failed to use his middle initial in its official standings.
As then-L.A. Weekly staff writer Chris Vogel first reported in February 2012, the darts association attempted to give Zaffina the boot. But Zaffina, a law school grad who is not a member of the California Bar, learned that the organization had allowed its official registration with the state to lapse back in 1977. He promptly incorporated under the name — and sued some 60 darts players and eight different bars that hosted them for supposedly trampling on “his” trademark.
After being rebuffed in state court, the darts players regrouped, filing suit against Zaffina in federal court for violating their trademark. (Under the federal Lanham Act, judges don't just consider whether registration with the secretary of state has lapsed; they also look at whether the name has been in continuous use — and whether an organization has goodwill within the community.)
Eventually, Zaffina wore down even his own attorney, who begged to be let off the case and sought a restraining order against his client. And after Zaffina's lawyer was permitted to quit, Zaffina suffered a series of losses: The suit he'd filed in state court was eventually dismissed, while the judge ruled against him in federal court and ultimately issued last week's ruling forbidding him from using the name “Southern California Darts Association” ever again — and forcing him to cough up his opponents' legal fees.
By the end, the once-aggressive Zaffina — who'd issued a series of boastful press releases and bragged to the Weekly's reporter about his plans to employ the darts association's name — fell silent. His opponents' recent legal filings went unanswered; he didn't respond to an email seeking comment yesterday.
Says Bill Lynch, one of the darts players who fought against Zaffina, “It all ended with a whimper.”