Courts & Crime

Yosemite’s names dispute likely headed for mediation

A high-profile clash over the trademarking of Yosemite National Park names appears headed for a mediated settlement.

The potential mediation, revealed in a new court filing, would enable the National Park Service and Yosemite’s former and current concessionaires to resolve their intellectual property differences more amicably and probably more quickly than in the raw legal arena.

“Counsel for the parties have had preliminary discussions regarding a nonbinding mediation that, if successful, would dispose of all of the issues in this case,” attorneys wrote in a joint filing Wednesday, adding that all sides “have each agreed to the concept of such a mediation.”

In a further sign of relative optimism, the attorneys for the Justice Department and the former concessionaire, a Delaware North subsidiary formally known as DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, said they should be able to “reach an agreement on a mediation procedure and schedule” by July 21.

The company that took over Yosemite’s major concession operations on March 1, an Aramark subsidiary known as Yosemite Hospitality, will also participate in the settlement talks, which attorneys think can take precedence over a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

“In light of the potential for resolving this matter through mediation, counsel’s time and effort would be better spent on attempting to reach a mediation agreement than completing” a scheduled status report, attorneys said in Wednesday’s filing.

The momentum for a mediated settlement is not a guarantee of success, particularly in a case, like this one, that involves millions of dollars and more than two parties. Prior legal filings in the claims court case, moreover, have demonstrated aggressive if not combative postures from the leading attorneys.

At the same time, the competing parties each have incentive to settle and move on. A settlement presumably would permit the restoration of historic names to Yosemite locations such as the famed Ahwahnee hotel, now rebranded as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, while providing some kind of intellectual property payment to Delaware North.

“We are attempting to reach an agreement on a mediation framework involving both the government and Aramark,” Delaware North spokesman Glen White said Thursday, when asked about the court filing.

A settlement would also enable the National Park Service and Delaware North to avoid potential residual tensions from seeping into other parks where the Buffalo-based company does business through subsidiaries, such as Sequ oia and Kings Canyon national parks.

The settlement discussions and underlying lawsuit filed last September revolve around Delaware North’s trademarking Yosemite-affiliated names – including the Ahwahnee, Wawona and Curry Village – a number of years ago. A consultant hired by Delaware North subsequently valued the names at $44 million, and the company says it’s owed the money.

Pending resolution of the dispute, the park service ordered the trademarked sites renamed. During an earlier phase of the conflict, the Obama administration also sought to cancel the trademark registrations, an action that has been suspended until the lawsuit is resolved.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10