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Judge Hands Vikings a |Loss Over Bank’s Signs

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) - The Minnesota Vikings were one of 2015's breakout NFL teams, amassing a 11-6 record on the field. In federal court, however, a win proved harder to come by.

On Thursday, a federal judge denied the team's stadium authority the preliminary injunction it had sought against Wells Fargo Bank N.A., to prevent the bank from placing lighted signs on rooftops near the team's new stadium.

Dubbed the "photobomb" lawsuit, the Vikings claim the Wells Fargo lighting scheme is nothing less than a bald attempt to get a little free publicity whenever the stadium is shown on television.

The team also contends the signs will infringe on their naming rights agreement with U.S. Bank for their new stadium, and that Wells Fargo's actions violate an agreement between it and the team in which the bank explicitly agreed not to raise such lighted signs.

The stadium authority sued the bank in state court on Dec. 22, 2015, and Wells Fargo had the case removed to federal court.

The Feb. 10, 2014, agreement with Wells Fargo restricted the image, location, scale, size and utility of the bank's signs, the complaint says.

Despite that agreement, the plaintiff claims, on Aug. 8, 2014, Wells Fargo requested to amend the agreement to include raised and illuminated lettering.

The authority asserts it was granted control over the use, design, branding and image of U.S. Bank Stadium through a series of agreements with the Minnesota Sports Facility Association, a governmental entity overseeing the stadium construction.

The plaintiff claims Wells Fargo's signs would harm the plaintiff's efforts to build "an iconic, bold new stadium" and related infrastructure in downtown Minneapolis.

The stadium authority says that even allowing Wells Fargo to build any signs at all was a "major concession," given the plaintiff's ability to prohibit any such signs.

Wells Fargo's efforts to raise lighted signs is an attempt "to permanently 'photo bomb' the image of the iconic U.S. Bank Stadium," the complaint says.

Wells Fargo spokesperson John Hobot responded to the claims in an emailed statement in December 2015.

"We are satisfied with the signage package that was approved for our $300 million community investment initiative for our new campus in the historic Downtown East neighborhood," Hobot said.

Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank found that "both parties have viable arguments," thus the stadium authority cannot prevail in its temporary injunction motion because its likelihood of success on the merits is not greater than Wells Fargo's.

As far as the stadium authority's claim that denying the injunction will cause "irreparable harm," the judge was not convinced.

"[T]he fact that MVFS waited until December 22, 2015 to seek preliminary injunctive relief undermines its claim of irreparable harm," Frank wrote. "MVFS received Wells Fargo's Proposed Signage Document, featuring mounted, illuminated roof-top signs, in August 2014-more than a year before MVFS filed the instant motion."

Finally, both parties' developments will benefit the community, rendering neither signage solution better for the public interest, Frank wrote.

Hobot said in statement on Friday that the bank is pleased with the decision.

"We are proud of our $300 million invested in this historic neighborhood and will continue to vigorously defend our case in court because we have always believed we should have the right to display our roof-top signs as planned," he said.

Kevin Coan of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Minneapolis, the attorney for the stadium authority, did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment.

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