The US District Court Eastern District of Missouri Eastern Division has awarded $138,925 to Lawn Managers, Inc., a company that was in a dispute for its trademark. | pexels.com
ST. LOUIS — The U.S. District Court Eastern District of Missouri Eastern Division has awarded $138,925 to Lawn Managers Inc. in a trademark dispute.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David D. Noce made the ruling on Aug. 31, following a bench trial on the plaintiff’s claim of trademark infringement.
“The United States Trademark law provides that a court ‘in exceptional cases may award reasonable attorney fees to the prevailing party,” the opinion stated. “The Court did so here.”
According to the court, a case is exceptional when a defendant’s conduct is “willful and deliberate.”
In this case, the court determined that Progressive Lawn Managers Inc. intended to deceive the public through its logo, website, signs, promotional materials, phone conversations with customers and descriptions of its address.
“Defendant deliberately exacerbated consumer confusion with the intent of profiting from plaintiff’s accrued consumer goodwill for as long as possible, taking actions beyond the pale of acceptable conduct,” the opinion stated.
Lawn Managers Inc. was asking for $237,233 in attorney’s fees, according to the court. However, the court only partially awarded attorney fees.
According to the court, the defendant argued that some fees sought were not actually billed to plaintiff; the fees include hours for non-attorney administrative work and some narrative descriptions are vague or redacted.
The defendant added that some entries reflect work done for state court proceedings, some time entries are duplicative or excessive, and fees for expert witness testimony should not be recoverable.
“Counsel for plaintiff regularly discounted its fees for work performed,” the opinion stated. “However, on its motion for fees, plaintiff requests the product of counsel’s hourly rate and time worked, rather than the amount plaintiff actually paid to its attorney.”
The district court declined to increase the award beyond the amount charged to the client.
According to the court, the defendant also argued that the plaintiff’s application includes $9,795 for non-attorney fees and administrative work such as obtaining and scanning copies.
“Plaintiff responds that its counsel is a solo attorney who does not employ staff and who passes on this lower overhead and increased administrative work by charging a reduced hourly rate,” the opinion stated.
The district court concluded that the “reduced hourly rate and counsel’s courtesy discounted fee to her client adequately compensates her for hours charged for administrative work.”
The court also agreed with the defendant in regards to the claim of vague entries, saying the plaintiff didn’t clearly state what the attorney did in the amount of time he was charged for.
“In order to determine that hours claimed are reasonable, the court must be told what was accomplished during the time spent,” the opinion stated. “If the documentation is inadequate, a district court may reduce the award accordingly.”
However, the court didn’t decline the hours claimed, saying “the time claimed for these entries generally appears to be reasonable and often conservative.”
The district court also denied awards for state-court proceedings. In regards to the cost of bringing witnesses, the district court said it will award expert witness fees in the amount allowed, which is $40 per day and travel expenses.
Although the plaintiff didn’t succeed in all its motions, the district said it “declines to reduce the fee award for partial success because it finds plaintiff to be the prevailing party.”