United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Mom365, Inc.
(“Mom365”)'s Motion for an Award of
Attorneys' Fees (Doc. No. 30) and Defendants' Motion
for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. No. 34).
The motions are fully briefed and ready for disposition. For
the following reasons, Mom365's motion will be granted in
part and Defendants' motion will be denied.
case arises out of a breach of contract action brought by
Mom365, a photography business related to newborns, against
its former employees, Defendants Christine Pinto and Marie
Brownrigg. During their tenure with Mom365, Defendants
executed several non-compete, non-solicitation, and/or
confidentiality agreements. In June 2018, an investor
purchased all of the stock of Mom365 and required all
employees to reaffirm their existing non-solicitation and
confidentiality obligations. Both Defendants signed Employee
Confidentiality, Non-Solicitation, Release and Arbitration
Agreements (the “June 2018 Agreements”) requiring
that for a period of one year following termination of their
employment, “they neither solicit [Mom365's]
customers or employees nor disclose or use [Mom365's]
“confidential information.” Defendants were
terminated in July 2018. In April 2019, after learning that
Defendants had joined a startup newborn photography business,
Mom365 sent cease and desist letters to both Defendants. When
neither responded, Mom365 send further demand letters to
Defendants. Pinto did not respond; Brownrigg responded by
challenging the enforceability of the June 2018 Agreements.
On May 13, 2019, Mom365 filed a complaint for injunctive
relief and damages as well as a motion for temporary
15, 2019, the Court entered a temporary restraining order
enjoining Defendants from soliciting customers or employees
of Mom365 for a period of one year following the termination
of their employment in accordance with the terms of the June
2018 Agreements. (Doc. No. 17). On June 13, 2019, the Court
entered a Consent Permanent Injunction Order to that effect.
(Doc. No. 28). Both sides have now filed motions for
attorneys' fees pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 54(d). Mom365 seeks attorneys' fees of $81, 990
and expenses of $3, 030.05 (Doc. No. 30); Defendants seek
attorneys' fees and costs of $13, 091.48 (Doc. No. 34).
contractually permitted, a prevailing party may recoup
attorneys' fees incurred enforcing the contract.
DocMagic, Inc. v. Mortg. P'ship of Am., L.L.C.,
729 F.3d 808, 812 (8th Cir. 2013) (applying Missouri law).
Here, the June 2018 Agreements permit an award of
“reasonable attorneys' fees, costs and
disbursements” to the prevailing party in an action
“to enforce or interpret the terms of this
Agreement.” Mom365 maintains it is the prevailing party
because it successfully enforced the June 2018 Agreements,
securing both a temporary restraining order and a permanent
injunction - the relief sought in its complaint. Defendants
contend they are prevailing parties because the Court
rejected Mom365's attempt to rely on the previous
agreements and their broader non-compete provisions, despite
the express language of the June 2018 agreement that it
“supersedes all prior agreements … relating to
the subject matter of this Agreement, ” which
ultimately controlled the parties' resolution of this
may be considered prevailing parties for purposes of
recovering attorneys' fees “if they succeed on any
significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the
benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.”
Phelps-Roper v. Schmitt, No. 06-4156-CV-C-FJG, 2019
WL 2152519, at *2 (W.D. Mo. Mar. 27, 2019) (citing
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).
Furthermore, the relief must “ ‘materially alter[
] the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the
defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the
plaintiff.' ” Id. (quoting Doe v.
Nixon, 716 F.3d 1041, 1048 (8th Cir. 2013)); see
also Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12, (1992).
is the prevailing party in this action because the
Court's temporary restraining order and consent permanent
injunction order changed the legal relationship between the
parties. See Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W.
Virginia Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S.
598, 604 (2001) (court-ordered consent decrees create the
material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties
necessary to permit an award of attorney's fees). Because
Defendants are not the prevailing parties in this case, they
are not entitled to an award of attorneys' fees.
Accordingly, under the terms of the June 2018 Agreements,
Mom365 is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and
costs. “The amount of the fee must be determined on the
facts of each case, and the district court has wide
discretion in making this determination.” Safelite
Grp., Inc. v. Rothman, 759 Fed.Appx. 533, 535 (8th Cir.
2019) (quoting Rogers v. Kelly, 866 F.2d 997, 1001
(8th Cir. 1989)). Defendants on the other hand are not
entitled to an award of attorneys' fees.
Determining reasonable attorney fees
determine the amount of a reasonable fee, the Court uses the
“lodestar method, ” where the starting point
“is the number of hours reasonably expended on the
litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.”
Abdullah v. County of St. Louis, Mo., No. 4:14CV1436
CDP, 2015 WL 5638064, *1 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 24, 2015) (citations
omitted). The party seeking fees is responsible for providing
evidence of hours worked and the rate claimed. Wheeler v.
Mo. Highway & Transp. Comm'n, 348 F.3d 744, 754
(8th Cir. 2003). The district court is required to exclude
from the initial fee calculation hours that were not
“reasonably expended, ” i.e., that are
“excessive, redundant or otherwise unnecessary.”
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983).
general, a reasonable hourly rate is the prevailing market
rate in the relevant legal community for similar services by
lawyers of comparable skills, experience and reputation.
Safelite Grp., Inc. v. Rothman, No. CV 15-1878
(SRN/KMM), 2017 WL 3495768, at *6 (D. Minn. Aug. 11, 2017),
aff'd,759 Fed.Appx. 533 (8th Cir. 2019). In
determining a reasonable hourly rate, “district courts
may rely on their own experience and knowledge of ...