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Wine & Canvas Development LLC v. Muylle

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 24, 2018

WINE & CANVAS DEVELOPMENT LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTOPHER MUYLLE, THEODORE WEISSER, YN CANVAS CA, LLC, and WEISSER MANAGEMENT GROUP, LLC, Defendants. CHRISTOPHER MUYLLE and THEODORE WEISSER, Counter Claimants,
v.
WINE & CANVAS DEVELOPMENT LLC, Counter Defendant. CHRISTOPHER MUYLLE, Third Party Plaintiff,
v.
TAMARA SCOTT, DONALD MCCRACKEN, and ANTHONY SCOTT, Third Party Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT CHRISTOPHER MUYLLE'S SUPPLEMENTAL PETITION UNDER THE LANHAM ACT FOR POST NOVEMBER 30, 2014 FEES

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Christopher Muylle's (“Mr. Muylle”) Supplemental Petition Under the Lanham Act for Post November 30, 2014 Fees (“Supplemental Fee Petition”) (Filing No. 651). From November 17 through November 20, 2014, the Court conducted a jury trial on Plaintiff Wine & Canvas Development LLC's (“WNC”) trademark claims against Mr. Muylle and on Mr. Muylle's counterclaim and third party claim for abuse of process against WNC and its principals Anthony Scott (“Mr. Scott”), Tamara McCracken Scott (“Ms. McCracken”), and Donald McCracken (“Mr. McCracken”). At the conclusion of the four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Muylle on WNC's claims for trademark infringement and false designation of origin. The jury also returned a verdict for Mr. Muylle on his counterclaim and third party claim for abuse of process, awarding Mr. Muylle $81, 000.00 against WNC, $81, 000.00 against Mr. Scott, $81, 000.00 against Ms. McCracken, and $27, 000.00 against Mr. McCracken.

         After the trial, Mr. Muylle filed his initial fee petition, seeking fees incurred from October 1, 2014 through November 30, 2014. The Court granted Mr. Muylle's initial fee petition because he was a prevailing defendant in a Lanham Act suit that was an exceptional case (Filing No. 535). Mr. Muylle now seeks an award of additional fees that he has incurred as the prevailing party in a Lanham Act case, asking for fees incurred after November 30, 2014. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Mr. Muylle's Supplemental Fee Petition.

         I. DISCUSSION

         Section 1117(a) of the Lanham Act provides that “[t]he court in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party.” 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a). “Under the Lanham Act, an award of attorneys fees is committed to the trial court's sound discretion, ” and on appeal, the court of appeals “review[s] a grant of attorney fees to a prevailing defendant under the Lanham Act only for clear error.” S Indus. v. Centra 2000, Inc., 249 F.3d 625, 627 (7th Cir. 2001).

         Considering the appropriateness of an attorney fee award under the Lanham Act, the Seventh Circuit discussed the reasoning behind the fee shifting provision.

A more practical concern is the potential for businesses to use Lanham Act litigation for strategic purposes-not to obtain a judgment or defeat a claim but to obtain a competitive advantage independent of the outcome of the case by piling litigation costs on a competitor. Almost all cases under the Act . . ., whether they are suits for trademark infringement or for false advertising, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1114, 1125(a), are between competitors. The owner of a trademark might bring a Lanham Act suit against a new entrant into his market, alleging trademark infringement but really just hoping to drive out the entrant by imposing heavy litigation costs on him.

Nightingale Home Healthcare, Inc. v. Anodyne Therapy, LLC, 626 F.3d 958, 962 (7th Cir. 2010). The Seventh Circuit further explained that, as to prevailing defendants, the Lanham Act's fee shifting provision “provide[s] protection against unfounded suits brought by trademark owners for harassment and the like.” Finance Inv. Co. (Bermuda) v. Geberit AG, 165 F.3d 526, 533 (7th Cir. 1998).

         When determining whether a case is “exceptional” to warrant the award of attorney fees to a prevailing defendant, the Seventh Circuit has provided guidance to the district courts. “When the plaintiff is the oppressor, the concept of abuse of process provides a helpful characterization of his conduct.” Nightingale, 626 F.3d at 963. In attempting to draw a line to assist parties and district courts concerning the standard for awarding attorney fees under the Lanham Act, the Seventh Circuit declared,

We conclude that a case under the Lanham Act is “exceptional, ” in the sense of warranting an award of reasonable attorneys' fees to the winning party, if the losing party was the plaintiff and was guilty of abuse of process in suing, or if the losing party was the defendant and had no defense yet persisted in the trademark infringement or false advertising for which he was being sued, in order to impose costs on his opponent.

Id. at 963-64.

         In its Order on Petition for Fees Under the Lanham Act, the Court explained the litigation conduct and history of this case and determined that this case is indeed an exceptional case, warranting an award of attorney fees in a Lanham Act suit. The Court's previous analysis and conclusion remain applicable (Filing No. 535 at 3-5), and thus, the Court herein adopts its prior analysis and conclusion from the Order on Petition for Fees Under the Lanham Act regarding the appropriateness of awarding attorney fees in this case.

         In support of his Supplemental Fee Petition, Mr. Muylle submitted to the Court his detailed costs invoice and attorney fees statements as well as a declaration under penalty of perjury from his attorney, providing authentication for the statements (Filing No. 651-1; Filing No. 651-2; Filing No. 651-3). The statements show that fees and costs incurred from December 1, 2014, through October 31, 2017, totaled $208, 535.23.

         In response to the Supplemental Fee Petition, WNC argues that many of the attorney fee charges are improper because (1) they are recorded in block billing format, (2) they are vague, (3) they are excessive in that they are double or triple billed for the same task, (4) they charge for fees on motions for which Mr. Muylle was unsuccessful, (5) they are incurred against one judgment defendant but not all judgment defendants, (6) they are related to bankruptcy collection efforts, or (7) they are related to state court collection efforts (Filing No. 660). Additionally, WNC alleged that it was supporting its argument with an attached spreadsheet, “which sets forth each and every entry on the Invoices along with the date, description, ...


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