Kent Clerk Rejects DBA After Filing

June 24, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Saying she acted under authority given to her by state law, Kent County Clerk Mary Hollinrake rejected the filing of a controversial assumed name last week — after it was filed — because she felt the name would mislead the public.

Business owners who had concerns that they, too, could lose their assumed names can probably relax, as last week’s after-the-filing-rejection was the first in at least three years. Over that time, more than 14,000 assumed names have been filed with the county.

State law allows county clerks to reject filings if an assumed name misleads the public, or is similar to an existing name and could confuse or deceive the public. A request to reject a name after it has been filed has to be made in writing and have a legal claim. In the past, some of these disputes have been settled in circuit court.

Hollinrake disallowed a “doing business as” application, or DBA, for “DeVos Place” filed last month by Kimberly Scott, a Kentwood resident. DeVos Place was chosen in May as the name for the new $219.5 million convention center, after the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation pledged $15 million to the building’s private-sector fundraising drive.

Had Hollinrake not rejected the DBA, Scott would have owned the name for the next five years. The building is set to open by early 2004. Scott was first to file the name.

Hollinrake said her power to deny the DBA came from Section 445.2 of the state statute that governs the filing of an assumed name. The law gives county clerks the authority to reject a name that is “likely to mislead the public” or is so similar to an existing name that it may “lead to confusion or deception.”

“The statute is pretty clear that the county clerk has the authority to reject an assumed name that is misleading, confusing or deceiving,” said Hollinrake. “I didn’t do it based on any other party or entity putting pressure on me, or asking me to do it.”

In this case, Warner, Norcross & Judd — the law firm representing the Convention and Arena Authority, which owns the convention center — made the written request to reject Scott’s DBA and cited Section 445.2 for support.

“I proceeded based on the request from the CAA’s attorney, and in conjunction with our civil council here at the county,” said Hollinrake.

Hollinrake said about 400 assumed names are filed each month with her office, and when a filing is rejected, it’s usually done at the counter. She said this was the first time in her three years with the office that a DBA was rejected after it was filed.

“My clerks generally only reject them at the counter if one is similar to a name already on file. However, the statute doesn’t limit the county clerk to that. The statute is much broader than that and says I can reject anything that would mislead the public, period,” she said.

“So I have the right to reject one that simply would mislead the public regardless of whether or not one is on file,” she added.

Before being elected to the clerk’s post last year, Hollinrake served as chief deputy clerk under Terri Land for 21 months.

Kent County Commission Chairman Steve Heacock said business owners shouldn’t worry about losing their assumed names following the after-filing rejection of this one.

“I do think that in this case DeVos Place was announced as a building name and as something substantial. Then this woman goes out and registers the name. It does seem to me that there’s a legitimate concern about confusion and even about her intent,” said Heacock, who also chairs the CAA.

Scott can appeal the decision in Kent County Circuit Court.

Disputes over assumed names have ended up in court. In 1973, Meijer Inc. won a verdict in Oakland Circuit Court when a grocer filed his business name as “Thrifty Acres.” The court ruled in favor of Meijer, saying the name was too similar to Meijer Thrifty Acres.

At press time, Scott still owned the Internet domain name devosplace.com and had built a Web site at that address that promised to provide information about the new convention center. Attorneys representing Scott and the CAA were scheduled to meet last Friday with hopes of resolving that issue.  

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