In 2018, after Hurricane Irma left a massive swath of damage and shortly before Hurricane Michael pounded the Panhandle, state officials launched a program called “Rebuild Florida” to help repair homes and bolster communities.
But four years later, a Central Florida contractor, Rebuild Florida LLC, has filed a lawsuit accusing the state of infringing on its trademark and asking a judge to stop the state Department of Economic Opportunity from continuing to use the Rebuild Florida name.
“The infringing mark (trademark) is marketed and used by the DEO (Department of Economic Opportunity) in a manner that suggests to consumers that there is a relationship between Rebuild Florida’s services and the DEO’s services or that Rebuild Florida and the DEO are the same, especially because they are both advertising and performing similar services in the same geographic areas,” attorneys for the Rebuild Florida firm wrote in the lawsuit filed late Friday in Leon County circuit court.
The lawsuit said the DeLand-based firm has provided painting services in Central Florida since 2017. Its logo includes an outline of the state. The Rebuild Florida state program also uses a logo with an outline of the state.
In part, the lawsuit contends the firm has received complaints about the state program and that confusion even led the attorney general’s office to contact the firm about the state program. It also said the firm had received subpoenas in 2020 and this year that were intended for the program.
“The complaints from recipients of Florida project services (the program) have escalated to a point where it is dangerous for Rebuild Florida employees to wear uniforms showing their Rebuild Florida mark, and they have therefore been forced to stop wearing their uniforms with plaintiff’s mark for fear of being assaulted or attacked,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit was filed almost exactly four years after the Department of Economic Opportunity in September 2018 said it had started making assistance available through the Rebuild Florida program to residents whose homes were damaged in Hurricane Irma. The massive storm in 2017 made landfall in the Florida Keys and barreled up the state, causing widespread damage.
Then-Gov. Rick Scott and then-U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made an initial announcement in June 2018 about the program, which received federal funding.
The program also expanded to include Northwest Florida residents whose homes were damaged in Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in Bay County and devastated some areas as it moved north in October 2018.