Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Inc. v. Pinto

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 14, 2019

MOM365, INC., f/k/a OUR365, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTINE PINTO and MARIE BROWNRIGG, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This 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.

         I. Background

         This 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 restraining order.

         On May 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).

         II. Discussion

         A. Prevailing party

         If 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 lawsuit.

         Plaintiffs 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).

         Mom365 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.

         B. Determining reasonable attorney fees

         To 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).

         Reasonable hourly rate

         In 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.