A Supreme victory
Case at a glance
We represented: Dan Wilson Homes
The outcome: We successfully defended Dan Wilson Homes in a lawsuit where an architect claimed that Wilson violated copyright law with plans for a house.
How we did it: The general rule in copyright is that the draftsman owns the plans, but in this case we were able to prove an implied license because the original idea came from Dan Wilson and his clients.
What happened: We won the original trial, then won an appeal to the Fifth Circuit. The plaintiff appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and they declined to hear it, ending the case.
McCleskey team successfully navigates Lubbock home builder’s case to U.S. Supreme Court
When Lubbock custom home builder Dan Wilson asked an architect to draw plans for a couple’s dream home in 2012, he never thought he’d end up in a case going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
When the nation’s highest court declined to hear an appeal from the architect, Wilson had survived a legal gauntlet with the help of the McCleskey Law Firm team that found an innovative solution even when other attorneys doubted it would work.
“I’d never been sued until this deal came up,” said Dan Wilson. “I’ve built 500 homes through the years and we’ve never been close to litigation.”
McCleskey attorney Rion Sanford, a member of the firm’s winning team, said, “We can handle a sizable federal case from the day it’s filed through an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, and that’s exactly what happened in this case.”
“People in Lubbock and West Texas don’t have to go to Dallas for that level of legal representation,” said Sanford.
After starting plans with his clients, Dan Wilson approached architect Marshall Hunn to draw up plans for his clients’ home. Hunn passed this project on to his draftsman, Ben Lack, who left Hunn’s employment before he finished the plans.
Hunn then accused Wilson of conspiring with Lack, said he would not release the plans claiming he owned the copyright and filed suit for $2 million.
“Hunn wanted to use copyright law as an offensive weapon to hold Wilson and his clients hostage. The federal courts of United States stated that this was not proper use of copyright law and they may build the home they designed,” said Sanford.
The key to winning the original case and two appeals was the concept of implied license. “The general rule is, whoever puts pen to paper is the owner of the copyright,” said Sanford.
“In this case, Wilson and his clients brought a fully formed idea about a single house to the architect. They designed the concept, and Wilson hired Marshall Hunn to draw the plans,” he said.
The idea of implied license was explored when McCleskey’s team felt the general rule of a copyright wasn’t fair.
Dustin Burrows, another member of the McCleskey team, said, “I think (Hunn) truly believed about two-thirds of what was done was his property. He tried to hold them for ransom.”
Wilson said, “When they told me about the idea of implied license as one of the keys in defense of this case I had never thought of it, but I had already worked out floor plans of the house with my clients and just asked (Hunn) to finish and put the front elevation on it.”
“I thought it was an ingenious angle to look at and so did the courts,” said the home builder.
Sanford stated, “Theories of implied license were out there but had never been used in a case between a home builder and draftsman where this was the result. There was no legal precedent in the Fifth Circuit,” where Hunn appealed after losing the original trial.
Wilson was very pleased with his legal team.
“From day one they had the ability to listen. I felt their concern and empathy for what we were going through as a company,” he said.
“They absolutely treated us the way we treat our customers. Most of our owners have never built a custom home. They are unsure what’s coming next and insecurities start to rise,” he said.
Wilson felt the same way as some of those customers. “The process can feel overwhelming unless they hold your hand and explain everything to you, and they’re very good at that,” he said.
And yes, the house was finally built.
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