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Dewitt Ross & Stevens S.C. v. Eckenrod

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division

February 13, 2015

DEWITT ROSS & STEVENS S.C., Plaintiff,
v.
ALVIN E. ECKENROD, ET AL. Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JACKSON L. KISER, Senior District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Alvin E. Eckenrod and Interlam Corporation's Motion for Summary Judgment ("the Motion"). [ECF No. 32.] Defendant Modular Wood Systems, Inc., did not join in the Motion and, on Plaintiff's motion, Defendant Lab Designs, LLC, was dismissed from the case. (Order, Feb. 2, 2015 [ECF No. 43].) I have reviewed the evidence and argument of both parties, and the matter is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated herein, I will deny the Motion.

I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Because this matter is before the Court under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the facts are recited in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the non-moving party. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

Plaintiff DeWitt, Ross & Stevens, SC ("Plaintiff" or "DeWitt"), is a Wisconsin-based law firm. Defendant Interlam Corp. ("Interlam") is a manufacturer of sculptured wall panels headquartered in Mt. Airy, NC. Defendant Modular Wood Systems, Inc. ("Modular") maintained its offices in Claudeville, VA, until its assets were sold to Panel Processing, Inc. in 2012. Defendant Alvin E. "Skip" Eckenrod ("Eckenrod") was President of Modular until October 2012. AEE Enterprises, Inc. ("AEE") is the successor corporate entity to that portion of Modular which was not sold to Panel Processing, Inc. Lab Designs, LLC ("Lab Designs") is a distributor of high-end laminates, and its main office is in Las Vegas, NV.[1] Joseph Ervin and Eckenrod are Managers of Lab Design.[2] Eckenrod is currently the President of AEE and Interlam, and was formerly a Manager of Lab Design and President of Modular.

On June 27, 2003, Eckrenrod, the president of Interlam, engaged DeWitt's services as counsel in an intellectual property dispute. To that end, DeWitt and Eckenrod executed a standard engagement letter outlining the extent of DeWitt's obligations. (See Pl.'s Br. in Opp. Ex. A pg. 1-2, Jan. 20, 2015 [ECF No. 35-2] (hereinafter "Engagement Ltr.").) As is relevant to this dispute, the engagement letter stated, in part:

This letter also confirms that you have engaged DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C. to represent you with your intellectual property work.
...
For purposes of this letter, "we" and "us" refer to DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C., and "you" and "your" refer to Skip Eckenrod and Interlam. The term "intellectual property" is specifically meant to incorporate patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and trade dress. However, this engagement letter will form the basis of our understanding for any other legal matters authorized by you.
The scope of our legal services will be in accordance with this letter, any written modifications to it, and our discussions or correspondence not inconsistent with this letter or its written modifications.

(Id.) The letter was signed by Charles S. Sara, a DeWitt attorney, and Eckrenrod (listed on the Engagement Letter as "President"). (Id. pg. 9.) The engagement letter also stated, above Eckenrod's signature: "For Interlam Approved & Agreed." (Id.)

Beginning in 2003 and lasting throughout at least 2007, DeWitt represented Interlam on several different matters. In 2007, Interlam contacted DeWitt attorney Harry Van Camp regarding a federal lawsuit in Seattle, Washington. (Aff. of Harry Van Camp ¶ 4, Jan. 20, 2015 [ECF No. 35-4].) DeWitt attorney's represented Interlam through a three-day jury trial in February and March of 2008. (Id. ¶ 5.) A separate letter of engagement was not signed for that representation. According to Van Camp, "Interlam paid all of its legal fees associated with the Seattle litigation." (Id. ¶ 7.) During DeWitt's representation of Interlam on the Seattle litigation, Eckenrod and Eddie Bishop, Interlam's Vice President of Operations, were Interlam's primary contacts with DeWitt. (Id. ¶ 6.) Bishop also served as Modular's General Manager. (Aff. of Eddie Bishop ¶ 5, Aug. 29, 2014 [ECF No. 32-3].)

Several years later, in approximately May 2009, Marlite, Inc., sued America Canas, a Modular employee, in federal district court in Ohio. (Van Camp Aff. ¶ 8.) Marlite contended that Canas, a former Marlite employee, breached a non-complete agreement when she began working for Modular. (See id.) According to Van Camp, both Eckenrod and Bishop asked Van Camp to represent Canas in the Marlite litigation. (Id. ¶ 9.) "Both Bishop and Eckenrod indicated that Eckenrod, or one of the businesses entities that he controlled, would pay for Ms. Canas'[s] legal fees." (Id.) Van Camp states that, based on DeWitt's prior interactions with Eckenrod, he believed Eckenrod's request amounted to authorization based on the language in the 2003 engagement letter with Interlam. (Id.) Interlam was not a party to the Marlite litigation. (See, e.g., Aff. of Alvin Eckenrod ¶ 13, Aug. 29, 2014 [ECF No. 32-2].) The parties did not execute a letter of engagement for the Marlite litigation. (See id. ¶ 15-16.)

During the Marlite litigation, the case was transferred to the Southern District of Florida, and the complaint was amended to add claims against Modular and Eckenrod, in his individual capacity. (Van Camp. Aff. ¶ 10-11.) Eckenrod was added as a party because he had personally signed a non-compete agreement with Marlite. (Id. ¶ 11; id. Ex. A.) With Canas's consent, Van Camp withdrew as counsel for Canas and began representing Modular and Eckenrod. (Id. ¶ 12.) There is no dispute ...


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