WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center
ADMINISTRATIVE PANEL DECISION
Bridgepoint Education, Inc., Ashford University, LLC v. Phil Trackleberg
Case No. D2016-2048
1. The Parties
Complainants are Bridgepoint Education, Inc. of San Diego, California, United States of America ("United States") and Ashford University, LLC of Clinton, Iowa, United States, represented by Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, United States.
Respondent is Phil Trackleberg of Temecula, California, United States.
2. The Domain Name and Registrar
The disputed domain name <ashfordloanforgiveness.com> (the "Domain Name") is registered with GoDaddy.com, LLC (the "Registrar").
3. Procedural History
The Complaint was filed with the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the "Center") on October 7, 2016. On October 7, 2016, the Center transmitted by e-mail to the Registrar a request for registrar verification in connection with the Domain Name. On October 10, 2016, the Registrar transmitted by e-mail to the Center its verification response confirming that Respondent is listed as the registrant and providing the contact details.
The Center verified that the Complaint satisfied the formal requirements of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Policy" or "UDRP"), the Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Rules"), and the WIPO Supplemental Rules for Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (the "Supplemental Rules").
In accordance with the Rules, paragraphs 2 and 4, the Center formally notified Respondent of the Complaint, and the proceedings commenced on October 17, 2016. In accordance with the Rules, paragraph 5, the due date for Response was November 6, 2016. Respondent did not submit any response. Accordingly, the Center notified Respondent's default on November 7, 2016.
The Center appointed Robert A. Badgley as the sole panelist in this matter on November 10, 2016. The Panel finds that it was properly constituted. The Panel has submitted the Statement of Acceptance and Declaration of Impartiality and Independence, as required by the Center to ensure compliance with the Rules, paragraph 7.
4. Factual Background
Complainant Bridgepoint Education, Inc. ("Bridgepoint") owns Complainant Ashford University, a provider of educational services under the marks ASHFORD and ASHFORD UNIVERSITY since 2005. These marks are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and include Reg. No. 3,220,625 for ASHFORD UNIVERSITY, registered on March 20, 2007. Complainants also operate a website at "www.ashford.edu."
Respondent registered the Domain Name on September 13, 2016. The Domain Name resolves to a website which, under the header "Ashford University Loan Forgiveness," claims that Bridgepoint was ordered to pay USD 23.5 million in student loan refunds. The site then invites the reader to participate in a class action against Complainants and/or receive "immediate loan assistance" from Respondent.
According to the Complaint, Respondent is operating a scam to gain fees from unwitting Ashford students who believe that Respondent can assist them in obtaining better student loan terms.
5. Parties' Contentions
Complainants maintain that they have satisfied the three elements required under the Policy for a transfer of the Domain Name.
Respondent did not reply to Complainant's contentions.
6. Discussion and Findings
Paragraph 4(a) of the Policy lists the three elements which Complainants must satisfy with respect to the Domain Name:
(i) the Domain Name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which Complainants have rights; and
(ii) Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name; and
(iii) the Domain Name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.
A. Identical or Confusingly Similar
The Panel concludes that Complainants hold rights, through registration and use, in the marks ASHFORD and ASHFORD UNIVERSITY. The Panel also finds the Domain Name to be confusingly similar to the ASHFORD mark, as it incorporates ASHFORD in its entirety and adds the term "loan forgiveness." This additional text does not alter the fact that the dominant element of the Domain name is the ASHFORD mark.
Complainants have established Policy paragraph 4(a)(i).
B. Rights or Legitimate Interests
Pursuant to paragraph 4(c) of the Policy, Respondent may establish its rights or legitimate interests in the Domain Name, among other circumstances, by showing any of the following elements:
(i) before any notice to you [Respondent] of the dispute, your use of, or demonstrable preparations to use, the Domain Name or a name corresponding to the Domain Name in connection with a bona fide offering of goods or services; or
(ii) you [Respondent] (as an individual, business, or other organization) have been commonly known by the Domain Name, even if you have acquired no trademark or service mark rights; or
(iii) you [Respondent] are making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the Domain Name, without intent for commercial gain to misleadingly divert consumers or to tarnish the trademark or service mark at issue.
The Panel concludes that Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the Domain Name. Respondent has not come forward to explain any possible bona fides. The Domain Name resolves to a website where on the face of it at least, Respondent solicits visitors to seek his assistance in reducing their student loan debt. Respondent's unauthorized appropriation of Complainants' mark for what Complainants characterize as a scam is not a bona fide offering of goods or services.
Complainants have established Policy paragraph 4(a)(ii).
C. Registered and Used in Bad Faith
Paragraph 4(b) of the Policy provides that the following circumstances, "in particular but without limitation," are evidence of the registration and use of the Domain Name in "bad faith":
(i) circumstances indicating that Respondent has registered or has acquired the Domain Name primarily for the purpose of selling, renting, or otherwise transferring the Domain Name registration to Complainants who are the owners of the trademark or service mark or to a competitor of Complainants, for valuable consideration in excess of its documented out of pocket costs directly related to the Domain Name; or
(ii) that Respondent has registered the Domain Name in order to prevent the owner of the trademark or service mark from reflecting the mark in a corresponding domain name, provided that Respondent has engaged in a pattern of such conduct; or
(iii) that Respondent has registered the Domain Name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor; or
(iv) that by using the Domain Name, Respondent has intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to Respondent's website or other on line location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with Complainants' mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of Respondent's website or location or of a product or service on Respondent's website or location.
On this record, and lacking any assertions or proof from Respondent, the Panel finds that Respondent registered and has been using the Domain Name to operate a scam to receive fees from unwitting Ashford students who seek to reduce their student debt. Complainants make this allegation, which the Panel finds plausible on this record, and Respondent does not deny this serious allegation. The Panel therefore concludes that it is more likely than not true.
Such conduct falls within the definition of bad faith registration and use as described in Policy paragraph 4(b)(iv), quoted above.
Complainants have established Policy paragraph 4(a)(iii).
For the foregoing reasons, in accordance with paragraphs 4(i) of the Policy and 15 of the Rules, the Panel orders that the Domain Name <ashfordloanforgiveness.com> be transferred to Complainant Bridgepoint.
Robert A. Badgley
Date: November 11, 2016