Hunn v. Dan Wilson Homes, Inc.

Decision Date15 June 2015
Docket Number14–10365.,Nos. 13–11297,s. 13–11297
Citation789 F.3d 573,114 U.S.P.Q.2d 2002
PartiesMarshall HUNN, Agent of Hunn Designs, Plaintiff–Appellant, v. DAN WILSON HOMES, INCORPORATED ; Dan Wilson; Ben J. Lack, Defendants–Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

Dorsey L. Baker (argued), Fernando Manuel Bustos, Dustin N. Slade, Bustos Law Firm, P.C., Lubbock, TX, for PlaintiffAppellant.

William Patrick Lane, Dustin Ray Burrows, Marion Sanford, III (argued), McCleskey, Harriger, Brazill & Graf, L.L.P., Andrew Bradley Curtis, Susan Elizabeth Hill (argued), Craig, Terrill, Hale & Grantham, L.L.P., Lubbock, TX, for DefendantsAppellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

Before DAVIS and ELROD, Circuit Judges.*



Appellee Ben Lack, who was employed as a draftsman at Appellant Marshall Hunn's architectural design firm, resigned from his position while in the middle of a project for Hunn's client, Appellee Dan Wilson Homes. After Lack resigned from Hunn's employ, Dan Wilson hired Lack to complete the project. Hunn, alleging that Lack and Wilson secretly agreed to this arrangement in advance—i.e., that Lack and Wilson secretly agreed to cut Hunn out of the business relationship—brought numerous claims against Lack and Wilson. The district court granted summary judgment to Lack and Wilson on many of the claims and, after a bench trial, ruled in favor of Lack and Wilson on the remaining claims. Because the district court did not clearly err in finding that Lack and Wilson never made the alleged secret agreement, and because Hunn's legal theories lack merit, we AFFIRM.


Dan Wilson is the owner and president of Dan Wilson Homes, Inc., which is a custom home construction company.1 As relevant here, Wilson contracted with Hunn Designs, an architectural design firm owned by Marshall Hunn, to produce plans for four custom homes.2 Wilson hired Hunn's firm because he wanted the plans to be drafted by Ben Lack, who was employed on an at-will basis by Hunn.3

Wilson and Hunn agreed to a fee amount of $1.25 per square foot of air- conditioned living space for plans drafted by Lack. Wilson made clear to Hunn that Wilson would be directing the design work as requested by his clients/homeowners and would not need any pre-designed plans from Hunn. Hunn's responsibilities were to provide quality plans in a timely manner for Dan Wilson Homes to use to build the custom homes. Lack was to draft the plans as directed by Wilson and the homeowners. Wilson's responsibility under the parties' agreement was to pay for the plans.

Lack was the only Hunn employee who worked on the four custom plans for Dan Wilson Homes, and Lack served as a representative for Hunn Designs at weekly meetings with Wilson and the homeowners. At these weekly meetings, Lack delivered paper copies of the plans to Wilson and the homeowners. After Lack commenced work on all four of the plans—but before he completed any of the plans—Lack decided to resign from his position at Hunn Designs. On October 5, 2011, Lack informed Hunn of his desire to resign. Hunn and his wife initially feared that Lack had agreed to work in-house for Dan Wilson Homes, but the next day, Lack told Wilson that he had no job offer from Dan Wilson Homes. Hunn, upon hearing that Lack did not have an offer from Wilson, asked Lack to take the weekend to consider his options, and Lack continued to work for Hunn on that day and also the next day (Friday) from the office and home.

During this period, Lack believed that even if he gave official notice of his intent to resign from his employment with Hunn, he would be expected and permitted to continue working for two more weeks before his employment ended. Thus, Lack believed and intended that he would be able to complete the Wilson projects during his remaining two weeks of employment with Hunn. Indeed, Lack notified Wilson that he was considering resigning, but assured Wilson that he (i.e., Lack) intended to complete the drafting of Wilson's plans (as an employee of Hunn's).

Over the weekend, and still under the impression that he would be allowed to continue working at Hunn Designs on the projects he had been assigned, Lack requested by email that a friend of his convert some of the Wilson project (virtual) files from the 2008 version of AutoCAD to the 2006 version. This conversion was required because Lack maintained his own copy of AutoCAD software on his home computer in the 2006 version and the version at Hunn's offices was the 2008 version. Hunn permitted draftsmen to take files home because draftsmen often worked on projects on their own home computers as well as on the work computers contained in Hunn's office. Hunn does not dispute that Lack had permission to work on the files at home and was expected to do so in order to ensure timely completion of projects.

After an exchange between Lack and the Hunns on the morning of Monday, October 10, 2011, relating to Lack's decision about whether he would remain employed at Hunn Designs, Lack was asked to discontinue employment immediately. The Hunns asked Lack to return the Dan Wilson Home project (physical) files, which were at Lack's house. The Hunns did not ask Lack to return the AutoCAD (virtual) files. Lack retrieved the physical files and then cleaned out his office and left Hunn Designs.

When Lack's employment with Hunn ended, the home plans at issue were not yet completed. At that time, the Winder/McGee and Brown plans were approximately 90–95 percent complete, the Jeffers plan was approximately 30–40 percent complete, and the Showcase plan was only at the hand-sketch stage. At the time Lack's employment ended, Wilson had physical drafts of all four plans in the same stage of completion as those Lack maintained on his computer. Nothing new had been added to the plans between the time when Lack delivered the latest version of the plans to Wilson and the day when Lack resigned.

Upon learning that Lack was no longer employed with Hunn, Wilson asked Hunn who would be completing the custom home plans and when the completion could be expected. Hunn, who was angry with Wilson for what he perceived as a secret plan between Wilson and Lack for Lack to become employed by Dan Wilson Homes, informed Wilson that he (i.e., Hunn) did not know when he could complete the plans because he was busy on other projects. The Hunns also suggested that the draft plans were their property and that Wilson would violate copyright laws if he used the copies of the plans he had in his possession to complete the homes for his clients. Wilson proposed several ideas to Hunn about how the plans could timely be completed, including: (1) bringing the drafts in their then-current states of completion to Hunn to complete; (2) Hunn employing Lack a short time more so that Lack could finish the plans; (3) offering to pay for the percentage of completion in which the drafts stood in relation to the fully completed contract amount; and (4) offering to have the plans finished and then brought back to Hunn so that Hunn could copyright them to alleviate Hunn's contentions about asserted copyright claims. Hunn, however, rejected all of the ideas. Mrs. Hunn informed Wilson that he should hire an attorney, and the Hunns' attorney sent a letter to Wilson that included a statement that “the ability of Hunn to complete the existing designs” had been impaired. Hunn later applied for copyright protection on the plans, even though he had never before registered or applied for copyrights on any other set of home plans.

Wilson, after failing to convince Hunn to accept one of his proposals and receiving the letter from the Hunns' attorney, asked Lack to complete the plans. At the time Wilson asked Lack to complete the plans, Wilson was unaware of any non-compete clause Lack may have entered into with Hunn. Both Wilson and Lack believed that the plans were the property of the homeowners because the designs were based on the homeowners' ideas and concepts. Lack completed the four plans for Wilson, using the (virtual) files his friend had converted to the 2006 version of AutoCAD.

Wilson tendered payment to Hunn on a pro-rated basis for the work that Lack had performed while still employed by Hunn. After Hunn refused to accept the payment, Wilson tendered payment in the full contract amount, which included work that had not ever been performed by Hunn. Hunn again refused to accept payment. Instead, on May 24, 2012, Hunn filed suit in the Northern District of Texas against Wilson, Dan Wilson Homes, and Lack, alleging, inter alia, that Wilson and Lack secretly agreed that Lack would leave Hunn's employ, misappropriate Hunn's property, and steal Hunn's business. Hunn's second amended complaint contains eight causes of action: (i) copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., against all Appellees; (ii) false designation of origin under 15 U.S.C. § 1125 (Lanham Act), against all Appellees; (iii) breach of contract, against Dan Wilson and Dan Wilson Homes; (iv) breach of fiduciary duty, against all Appellees; (v) breach of covenant not to solicit customers, against Ben Lack; (vi) tortious interference, against Dan Wilson and Dan Wilson Homes; (vii) computer fraud and abuse under 18 U.S.C. § 1030(g), against all Appellees; and (viii) conspiracy, against all Appellees.

The district court granted summary judgment for Dan Wilson and Dan Wilson Homes on Hunn's Lanham Act claim, breach of fiduciary duty claim, tortious interference claim, computer fraud and abuse claim, and conspiracy claim. The district court granted summary judgment for Lack on Hunn's Lanham Act claim, computer fraud and abuse claim, breach of covenant not to compete claim, and conspiracy claim. Hunn appealed from the summary judgment order on his breach of fiduciary duty claim against Dan Wilson and Dan Wilson Homes, his computer fraud and abuse claim against Lack, his breach of covenant not to compete claim against...

To continue reading

Request your trial
60 cases
  • Greater Hous. Transp. Co. v. Uber Techs., Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
    • December 18, 2015
    ...requires that the allegedly false or misleading statements enter into or have an effect on interstate commerce. Hunn v. Dan Wilson Homes, Inc., 789 F.3d 573, 588 (5th Cir.2015) ; King v. Ames, 179 F.3d 370, 373–74 (5th Cir.1999) (“Persons bringing an action pursuant to this provision must d......
  • F.M.D. Holdings v. Regent Fin. Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas
    • December 10, 2021
    ... ... Mary Kay, Inc. v. Dunlap, No. 3:12-CV-0029-D, 2012 ... WL 2358082, at *7 (N.D ... routinely.'” Hunn v. Dan Wilson Homes, ... Inc., 789 F.3d 573, 588-89 (5th Cir. 2015) ... ...
  • Bell v. Eagle Mountain Saginaw Indep. Sch. Dist.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • February 25, 2022
    ...the district court's award of attorney's fees. We review this ruling only for abuse of discretion. See Hunn v. Dan Wilson Homes, Inc. , 789 F.3d 573, 588 (5th Cir. 2015)."[A]ttorney's fees to the prevailing party in a copyright action is the rule rather than the exception and should be awar......
  • Lennar Homes of Tex. Sales & Mktg., Ltd. v. Perry Homes, LLC
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
    • July 24, 2015
    ...of whether an award of attorney's fees would generally "promote[ ] the purposes of the Copyright Act." See Hunn v. Dan Wilson Homes, Inc., 789 F.3d 573, 589 (5th Cir.2015). Two points should be abundantly clear from the length and complexity of this opinion and the court's request for addit......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • Can I Use That? ' Protecting Your Business From Copyright Litigation
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • October 3, 2022
    ...' 505. There is a strong presumption that a court will award fees to the prevailing party. See, e.g., Hunn v. Dan Wilson Homes, Inc., 789 F.3d 573, 588-89 (5th Cir. 2015). Attorney's fees and litigation costs in copyright litigation can be extensive, as the litigation is often complex even ......
1 books & journal articles
  • § 7.05 The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (18 U.S.§ 1030)
    • United States
    • Full Court Press Intellectual Property and Computer Crimes Title Chapter 7 The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)
    • Invalid date
    ...Meridian Financial Advisors LTD. v. Pence, 763 F. Supp. 2d 1046 (S.D. Ind. 2011) (citing Citrin). But see, Hunn v. Dan Wilson Home, Inc., 789 F.3d 573, 583-84 (5th Cir. 2015) (defendant did not violate the CFAA where he used his work computer to transfer files to his computer with the inten......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT