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Maine Springs, LLC v. Nestle Waters North America Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

November 2, 2015

MAINE SPRINGS, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
NESTLÉ WATERS NORTH AMERICA, INC., Defendant.

ORDER ON PENDING MOTIONS

George Z. Singal United States District Judge.

Before the Court are (i) Defendant’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees and Costs Pursuant to Rule 54(b)(2) with Incorporated Memorandum of Law (ECF No. 22) (the “Motion for Attorney’s Fees”), (ii) Plaintiff’s Motion to Strike the July 8, 2015 Declaration of Attorney Rayback and Supporting Exhibits (ECF Nos. 26-2 - 26-7) and the July 8, 2015 Declaration of Attorney White and Supporting Exhibits (ECF Nos. 26-8 - 26-11) (ECF No. 27) (the “Motion to Strike”) and (iii) Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to File a Surreply (ECF No. 28) (the “Motion for Leave to File”).

The Motion to Strike is DENIED as to the July 8, 2015 Declaration of Attorney White and DENIED AS MOOT as to the July 8, 2015 Declaration of Attorney Rayback. The Court notes that Defendant withdrew the July 8, 2015 Declaration of Attorney Rayback in its Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Maine Springs’ Motion to Strike (ECF No. 35) and the Court finds that the July 30, 2015 Declaration of Attorney Rayback (ECF No. 35-1) offers an adequate explanation for the mistakes in his earlier declaration.

The Motion for Leave to File is GRANTED.

Having considered the record in accordance with these rulings, the Motion for Attorney’s Fees is DENIED for the reasons explained below.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 11, 2014, Plaintiff filed its Complaint and Demand for Trial by Jury (ECF No. 1) (the “Complaint”), asserting two claims against Defendant: a claim for violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)(1)(B), and a claim for tortious interference with commercial relationships under the laws of the State of Maine. Defendant brought a motion to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 13), arguing that Plaintiff failed to allege in the Complaint either that it suffered an injury that falls within the “zone of interests” protected by the Lanham Act or that any such injury was proximately caused by Defendant.

This Court granted the Motion to Dismiss as to the claim made under the Lanham Act and dismissed without prejudice the claim made for tortious interference (ECF No. 20) (the “Order on Motion to Dismiss”). The Lanham Act claim was dismissed because this Court concluded that, as a threshold matter, Plaintiff lacked standing to bring the claim. As explained in the Order on Motion to Dismiss, the Complaint’s pleadings failed to describe a “case or controversy” under Article III of the Constitution of the United States. Specifically, this Court concluded that the allegations made in the Complaint were insufficient to satisfy both the requirement that Plaintiff suffered an injury in fact and the requirement that such injury was fairly traceable to Defendant’s allegedly unlawful actions.

On March 18, 2015, the Clerk entered judgment in favor of Defendant. Defendant subsequently filed the pending Motion for Attorney’s Fees, arguing that this case is among the “exceptional cases” in which a court may award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in connection with a litigation under the Lanham Act. See 15 U.S.C. § 1117(a). Plaintiff has opposed the Motion for Attorney’s Fees, making three arguments in opposition. Plaintiff asserts that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to award attorney’s fees to Defendant, that Defendant is not a “prevailing party” and is therefore ineligible to be awarded attorney’s fees, and that Defendant has failed to establish that this case is “exceptional, ” as expressly required under the Lanham Act.

II. DISCUSSION

As explained below, this Court has jurisdiction to rule on the Motion for Attorney’s Fees. However, under First Circuit precedent, Defendant is not a “prevailing party, ” a prerequisite for an award of attorney’s fees. Even if Defendant was a “prevailing party, ” it would not receive any attorney’s fees, because this is not an “exceptional case[]” under the Lanham Act.

A. This Court Has Jurisdiction to Award Attorney’s Fees

The Court concludes that Plaintiff’s jurisdictional argument fails because the weight of available precedent on the question suggests that the Court in fact has jurisdiction to decide the issue of attorney’s fees.[1]

A split has developed amongst the courts that have directly considered whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction to award attorney’s fees where the underlying case has been dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Animal Welfare Inst. v. Feld Entm’t, Inc., 944 F.Supp.2d 1, 12-13 (D.D.C. 2013) (agreeing with the Seventh and Tenth Circuits, and disagreeing with the Eighth and Ninth Circuits, that such courts have jurisdiction to award attorney’s fees); see also Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 137 (1992) (upholding award of sanctions under Federal Rules of Civil ...


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