Eastern Property Development LLC et al v. Gill
ORDER denying 118 Motion for Attorney Fees; denying 122 Motion for Remittitur. Ordered by Judge Clay D. Land on 12/12/2012. (CGC)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
EASTERN PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT,
LLC and SOUTH EAST ENTERPRISE
CASE NO. 4:11-CV-62 (CDL)
O R D E R
The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs Eastern
Property Development, LLC and South East Enterprise Group, LLC
contractual relations claims, awarding Plaintiffs $35,335.98 in
compensatory damages and $250,000.00 in punitive damages.
contends that the punitive damages award was unconstitutionally
excessive and has filed a motion to reduce it to match the
compensatory damages award (ECF No. 122).
For the reasons set
forth below, the motion is denied.
Also pending before the Court is Plaintiffs’ Motion for
Attorneys’ Fees under § 35 of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1117
(ECF No. 118).
In addition to their trespass, conversion, and
pursued a trade name infringement claim under § 43 of the Lanham
15 U.S.C. §
infringement claim, and the Court declined to submit that issue
to the jury.
The Court noted, however, that it would determine
after trial whether Plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys’ fees
on their trade name infringement claim.
As discussed below,
Plaintiffs’ motion for attorneys’ fees is denied.
Gill’s Motion for Remittitur of Punitive Damages Award
The jury’s punitive damages award of $250,000.00 is roughly
seven times the compensatory damages award of $35,335.98.
beyond dispute that “‘[p]unitive damages may properly be imposed
to further a State’s legitimate interests in punishing unlawful
conduct and deterring its repetition.’”
Cont’l Carbon Inc., 481 F.3d
Action Marine, Inc. v.
1302, 1317-18 (11th Cir. 2007)
(quoting BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 568 (1996)).
However, it is equally clear that “[t]he Due Process Clause of
excessive or arbitrary punishments on a tortfeasor.”
Defendants’ motion requires the Court to determine whether the
award in this case is so excessive or arbitrary that it cannot
pass constitutional muster.
Having conducted the trial in this action, the Court cannot
conclude from the evidence presented that the punitive damages
award is grossly excessive in relation to the state’s legitimate
interest in punishing the conduct engaged in by the Defendant
and deterring similar conduct.
The Court also cannot conclude
that the punitive damages award is so disproportionate to the
The evidence presented at trial supports the jury’s
conclusion that Gill’s conduct was sufficiently reprehensible to
warrant the imposition of $250,000 in punitive damages.
Court acknowledges that the 7-to-1 ratio awarded by the jury is
Supreme Court, see Campbell, 538 U.S. at 425; however, the Court
also understands that an evaluation of the excessiveness of a
mathematical formula,” Action Marine, 481 F.3d at 1321 (internal
quotation marks omitted).
The evidence in this case supported a
finding by the jury that Gill busted into Plaintiffs’ offices,
interfered with their employees
The amount of
understates the egregiousness of Defendant’s conduct.
due to the fact that the Court issued a preliminary injunction
preventing further similar conduct during the pendency of the
notwithstanding the fact that Gill violated that injunction on
The evidence presented at trial supported the
punitive damages award, and under the specific circumstances of
excessive to the point of being unconstitutional.
To reduce the
award would be tantamount to an arbitrary substitution of this
Court’s judgment for the collective wisdom of Plaintiffs’ peers
who sat on his jury.
While the Court has the obligation to
conduct an independent review of the constitutionality of the
award, the Court is not authorized to reduce it arbitrarily.
Based on the Court’s review, Gill’s motion for remittitur must
Plaintiffs’ Motion for Attorneys’ Fees
Plaintiffs seek attorneys fees based on their claim that
Gill infringed their trade name, South East Enterprise Group,
LLC, in violation of § 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §
estate rental services.
Plaintiffs further assert that it was
Southeastern Enterprise Group, LLC, open a bank account in that
company’s name, and send correspondence to Plaintiffs’ tenants
instructing them to remit their rent payments to Gill’s newly
When Plaintiffs filed this action, they sought, and the
“holding himself out as working for, acting for, or speaking on
Enterprise or any other name that, because of its similarity to
Preliminary Injunction 2, ECF No. 14.
injunction on June 28, 2011, Gill stopped using the name South
Eastern Enterprise Group, LLC.
Plaintiffs contend that they are
preliminary injunction was entered.
prevailing party” in an action under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act.
15 U.S.C. § 1117(a) (emphasis added).
“While Congress has not
[Lanham] Act suggests that exceptional cases are those where the
infringing party acts in a malicious, fraudulent, deliberate, or
Burger King Corp. v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., 15
omitted); accord Lipscher v. LRP Publ’ns, Inc., 266 F.3d 1305,
exceptionality is fraud or bad faith).
“Although a case may
attorney fees remains within the discretion of the trial court.”
Burger King Corp., 15 F.3d at 168.
In this case, the record is devoid of sufficient facts for
the Court to conclude that Plaintiffs are the prevailing parties
on their Lanham Act claim.
Plaintiffs acknowledge that their
trade name, South East Enterprise Group, is merely descriptive
and is thus not entitled to trade name protection unless it has
acquired secondary meaning.
See Tana v. Dantanna’s, 611 F.3d
767, 774 (11th Cir. 2010) (discussing requirements for trademark
“A name has acquired secondary meaning when the
primary significance of the term in the minds of the consuming
public is not the product but the producer.”
present sufficient evidence that the name “South East Enterprise
Group” has attained secondary meaning.
Although the Court does
therefore not a protectable trade name, the Court does conclude
secondary meaning at trial.
Accordingly, the Court finds that
Plaintiffs are not the “prevailing party” within the meaning of
§ 35(a) of the Lanham Act, and Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorneys’
Fees is therefore denied.
As discussed above, Gill’s motion to reduce the punitive
damages award (ECF No. 122) is denied, as is Plaintiffs’ Motion
15 U.S.C. § 1117 (ECF No. 118).
The Court previously stayed
collection of the judgment pending its ruling on Gill’s motion
to reduce the judgment.
That stay is now lifted.
IT IS SO ORDERED, this 12th day of December, 2012.
S/Clay D. Land
CLAY D. LAND
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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