United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division
C. Mullen United States District Judge
matter is before the Court upon the Individual
Defendants' Motions for Attorney's Fees as prevailing
parties in this federal copyright lawsuit. Each motion has
been fully briefed and this matter is ripe for disposition.
Stillwater Homes, Inc. (“Stillwater”) built homes
for the Individual Defendants, the Bivinses and the
Shoemakers, in 2015. Plaintiff Sedgewick Homes, LLC
(“Sedgewick”) filed claims against Stillwater for
copyright infringement as well as other claims. Sedgewick
also sued the Individual Defendants for copyright
infringement and contributory infringement.
gist of Plaintiff's claims against the Individual
Defendants is that after visiting Sedgewick's model home
and sales office they allegedly provided to Stillwater
certain floor plans and elevations that Sedgewick had made
publicly available and asked Stillwater to copy the plans and
elevations. Prior to filing and serving the lawsuits against
the Individual Defendants, Sedgwick did not contact any of
the Individual Defendants to inquire as to whether they had
provided any of Sedgwick's information to Stillwater. The
Individual Defendants were forced to hire counsel, Mr. Gary
Beaver, to defend them. Because Individual Defendants are
middle-class families of limited means, Mr. Beaver agreed
reduce his billing rate from $410 per hour to $300 per hour.
two weeks after counsel had conducted a lengthy Rule 26(f)
telephone conference, Sedgewick's counsel offered to stay
the claims against the Individual Defendants only if each
couple paid Sedgewick $5000, an amount Sedgewick describes as
“nominal.” Mr. Beaver thereafter emailed
Sedgewick's counsel an 8-page letter with exhibits
rejecting the offer to have the Individual Defendants pay for
a stay and, instead, laid out the evidence showing that
Sedgwick's claims against the Individual Defendants were
baseless and “tantamount to economic blackmail on two
innocent middle-class families who [Sedgewick] never even
bothered to contact about its suspicions prior to filing the
lawsuit.” Mr. Beaver included an affidavit from Robert
Baldwin, Stillwater's owner, stating that the Individual
Defendants had not given him any of Sedgewick's
discovery, the Individual Defendants sought to discover any
evidence that Sedgwick had showing that either the Bivinses
or the Shoemakers had ever provided any Sedgwick plans to
Stillwater. No. evidence of that sort was ever produced by
Sedgwick to the Individual Defendants.
Sedgewick took the depositions of the Individual Defendants,
it finally agreed to stay the claims against them without
requiring them to pay in return for the stay. As of the date
of entry of the stay, each couple had paid Mr. Beaver
approximately $7000 in legal fees but owed him substantially
more than that.
the Court denied both Sedgewick and Stillwater's motions
for summary judgment, a jury trial was held. At the trial,
when asked by Defendant's counsel why Stillwater sued the
Individual Defendants, David Tucker, the president of
Sedgewick, testified as follows:
TUCKER: Well, past experience with other builders shows that
if you get the customers involved in this they will push the
builder to come up with a speedy resolution.
THE COURT: Wait a minute. You joined them in to pressure this
guy [Stillwater's owner]? Is that what you're saying?
TUCKER: Well, it certainly helps.
(Doc. No. 206-1, pp. 87-88).
Sedgewick's case in chief, the Court granted in part
Stillwater's Rule 50 motion, leaving only the copyright
infringement claim. The jury returned a verdict finding that
Plaintiff owned a valid copyright; Stillwater had access to
Plaintiff's work and there is substantial similarity
between the Quail Valley and the Trent, but that Trent plan
was created independently by Stillwater. Thereafter,
Sedgewick moved to dismiss its claims against the Individual
Defendants and the Court ...