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Aug 22, 2014

Bad Will: Goodwill Industries Sues WERA Racer For Millions Over Logos It Left On Sold Truck

Goodwill Industries sold this truck with logos intact, and is now suing the WERA racer who bought it from a car dealership.

In a legal skirmish allegedly involving a high-speed pursuit, a private investigator and a "Rogue Vehicle," the Goodwill affiliate for the Georgia coast and a racer from Charleston, South Carolina are locked in a legal battle over the racer's use of a used Goodwill delivery truck sold bearing the logos of the nonprofit organization.

The Savannah-based Goodwill of the Coastal Empire, through the law firm of Bouhan Falligant LLP, has sued Robert J. Woodworth, Jr., who races with WERA, CCS and ASRA, for millions of dollars and sought an injunction against the racer, according to court documents provided to Roadracing World.

Woodworth, who turned Expert this season after winning 28 Novice titles last year, says he was not told when he purchased the vehicle that he was responsible for removing the logos, and that he ignored letters from Goodwill's attorneys because they accused him of stealing donated goods, which the software developer says was a ridiculous and offensive allegation.

The complaint alleges that Woodworth, who has used the former Goodwill van to transport his Yamaha YZF-R6 and Honda CBR1000RR to race events on the East Coast, infringed on the company's trademark and engaged in deceptive trade practices by leaving the logos on the truck, thus implying that Goodwill sponsored his racing effort.

"It is Goodwill Savannah's standard practice to require purchasers of its retired vehicles to remove completely, at the purchaser's expense, any appearance of the GOODWILL Marks displayed on a retired vehicle at the time of sale," Goodwill attorneys say in civil suit CV 414-150, filed in the Savannah Division of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

"Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Court enter judgment against Defendant as follows ... Awarding Plaintiffs statutory damages of $2,000,000.00 per counterfeit mark per type of infringing service in accordance with Section 35 of the Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. § 1117) or alternatively, ordering Defendant to account to and pay to Plaintiffs all profits realized by Defendants wrongful acts and/or also awarding Plaintiffs their actual damages, and also directing that such profits and/or actual damages be trebled, in accordance with Section 35 of the Lanham Act."

Woodworth says he found the box van with lift gate via an ad on Craigslist placed by a local car dealer in January 2010. He purchased the vehicle from a dealership, not from Goodwill, and never was told that he needed to remove the Goodwill logos. He outfitted the interior with a pull-down bed, insulated it, installed an AC/heating system and had the perfect budget race hauler. Woodworth, his girlfriend and two dogs merrily rolled from track to track, from Talladega Gran Prix Raceway to NOLA Raceway, from Road Atlanta to Virginia International Raceway, living the club racer's dream.

But Goodwill was not amused. According to court documents provided by Woodworth, Goodwill employees had noticed the vehicle and one claimed he had even tried to chase it down on U.S. Highway 1, according to an affidavit filed with the court; "The Suspicious Vehicle was travelling (sic) at an extremely high rate of speed. After several minutes of pursuit I was forced to abandon my pursuit because I was unwilling to engage in a dangerous high-speed pursuit," the affidavit states.

Eventually, the truck was noticed parked in the driveway of Woodworth's Charleston home. Goodwill hired a law firm to deliver a demand that its logos be removed from the vehicle, and accusing the owner of the vehicle of taking Goodwill donations and keeping them.

"Our client has received information indicating that the Former Goodwill Vehicle is being used, without authorization, to accept donations intended for Goodwill Industries. Such donations apparently are not passed on to Goodwill Industries. This information is extremely troubling to our client," the letter states.

In a February 2014 letter, the organization's attorneys repeated the allegations and threatened to sue if the logos were not removed by Monday, Feb. 17. 

"Moreover, we have good reason to believe that you are using the Former Goodwill Vehicle to collect donations intended for Goodwill Industries in the Savannah, Georgia area. We have made these allegations in our previous letters. To date, you have not addressed those claims, let alone offered any denial," the letter stated.

When the private investigator returned, Woodworth had altered the logos on the side of the truck, crossing out some information and altering the rest to read "badwill," according to photographs taken by a private investigator and entered into the court record.

Goodwill officials were not available after hours on Friday for comment. The lawsuit itself does not allege that Woodworth engaged in collecting, keeping or diverting donated goods. The legal complaint does not address whether such suspicions were reported to law enforcement, especially since the address of the "Rogue Vehicle," as it is known in the court documents, was known to Goodwill, nor does it address the issue as to how the vehicle got to the car dealership with its logos intact.

Woodworth denied any illegal activities, but says in retrospect that he wishes he had removed the logos earlier. He has since done so, and now is trying to raise money for his legal defense via the website www.gofundme.com/dbzpws.