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Dennis Pierce, Inc. v. Pierce

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

April 6, 2018

DENNIS PIERCE, INC., et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
LETITIA PIERCE, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court discussed the factual background of this case in a previous order. See Dennis Pierce, Inc. v. Pierce, No. 2:16-CV-102-KS-MTP, 2017 WL 3567528, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Aug. 17, 2017). It held a jury trial in this matter on November 7-8, 2017. The jury returned a verdict in Plaintiffs' favor as to Defendant's counterclaim of copyright infringement. See Jury Verdict at 1, Dennis Pierce, Inc. v. Pierce, No. 2:16-CV-102-KS-MTP (S.D.Miss. Nov. 9, 2017), ECF No. 84.

         Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Attorney's Fees [87] and a Bill of Costs [86]. Defendant opposes the Motion [91] for fees and certain aspects of the Bill of Costs [92]. For the reasons below, the Court denies the Motion for Attorney's Fee's [87] and sustains in part and overrules in part Defendant's objections [92] to Plaintiffs' Bill of Costs [86].

         A. Motion for Attorney's Fees [87]

         Under the Copyright Act, “the court in its discretion may allow the recovery of full costs, ” and it “may . . . award a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party as part of the costs.” 17 U.S.C. § 505. The statute grants the Court “broad leeway” in awarding fees. Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 136 S.Ct. 1979, 1985, 195 L.Ed.2d 368 (2016). However, the Supreme Court placed two key restrictions on the Court's discretion. First, the Court may not “award attorney's fees as a matter of course; rather, a court must make a more particularized, case-by-case assessment.” Id. (quoting Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517, 114 S.Ct. 1023, 127 L.Ed.2d 455 (1994)). Second, “a court may not treat prevailing plaintiffs and prevailing defendants any differently; defendants should be encouraged to litigate meritorious copyright defenses to the same extent that plaintiffs are encouraged to litigate meritorious claims of infringement.” Id.

         The Supreme Court also “noted with approval several nonexclusive factors to inform a court's fee-shifting decisions: frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness, and the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence.” Id. The Court should place “substantial weight” on the objective reasonableness factor, but it should also give “due consideration” to the other factors. Id. at 1983. Even if a losing party advances a reasonable claim or defense, the Court may still award fees in light of the other factors. Id. “There is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations, but instead equitable discretion should be exercised in light of [these] considerations.” Fogerty, 510 U.S. at 534.

         In many respects, this case was a classic “he-said, she-said” situation. Letitia Pierce claimed that she created the disputed logo without Dennis Pierce's input; Dennis Pierce claimed that he substantially contributed to its creation. Letitia Pierce claimed that Dennis Pierce's companies used the logo with her permission; Dennis Pierce claimed that Letitia Pierce created it as a work for hire. The parties did not even agree on basic facts such as when Dennis Pierce started using the logo, who came up with the general idea to create a logo, or when the disputed logo was created. With so many basic facts in contention and the parties providing such divergent, contentious testimony at trial, the Court can not conclude that Ms. Pierce's copyright infringement counterclaim was frivolous or objectively unreasonable.

         As for motivation, the Court does not believe that either party has clean hands, and it is not inclined to award fees on this basis. Regardless of the legal technicalities and outcome, Dennis and Letitia Pierce literally made a federal case out of their family squabbles. Fueled by spite, bitterness, ego, and years of acrimony, the parties turned this Court into a forum for their dirty laundry. The Court is not inclined to award either party in these circumstances.

         “[C]opyright law ultimately serves the purpose of enriching the general public through access to creative works.” Kirtsaeng, 136 S.Ct. at 1986. The general public is not enriched by family members using federal copyright law as a means of harassing one another. In that respect, the Court does not believe considerations of compensation and deterrence are particularly applicable here, in light of the unique situation and, in the Court's opinion, the unclean hands on both sides of the case. The Court denies Dennis Pierce's motion for attorney's fees.

         B. Bill of Costs

         Rule 54 permits the Court to award costs to the prevailing party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). Congress limited the recoverable costs to certain categories. See 28 U.S.C. § 1920. The Court “may only award those costs articulated in section 1920 absent explicit statutory or contractual authorization to the contrary.” Gagnon v. United Technisource Inc., 607 F.3d 1036, 1045 (5th Cir. 2010). “[C]ourts are not accountants and [parties] should not be tagged with either costs or expense bills that are horseback estimates. Those who are entitled to recover costs and expenses bear the burden of furnishing a reasonable accounting.” Copper Liquor, Inc. v. Adolph Coors Co., 684 F.2d 1087, 1099 (5th Cir. 1982), overruled on other grounds, 790 F.2d 1174 (5th Cir. 1986). However, there is “a strong presumption that the prevailing party is prima facie entitled to costs and it is incumbent on the losing party to overcome that presumtion since denial of costs is in the nature of a penalty.” Marmillion v. Am. Int'l Ins. Co., 381 Fed.Appx. 421, 429 (5th Cir. 2010).

         Plaintiff filed a Bill of Costs for $2, 807.13. Defendant made several objections to the Bill of Costs, which the Court now addresses.

         1. Deposition Costs

         First, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs provided inadequate justification for costs associated with depositions. Plaintiffs requested $1, 823.50 for depositions of Darian Pierce, Elisa Pierce Collins, Letitia Pierce, and Jeffery ...


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