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Vasquez v. Paso Fino Horse Association Incorporated

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

August 14, 2019

CLARA VASQUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
PASO FINO HORSE ASSOCIATION INCORPORATED, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DANNY. C. REEVES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Clara Vasquez (“Clara”) sued the Paso Fino Horse Association (“PFHA”) and her sister Patricia Vasquez (“Patricia”) seeking a declaration of the parties' rights concerning the mare Paz del Suroeste (“the Mare”). The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on April 1, 2019. The Court denied Clara's motion for summary judgment and granted the defendants' motion, concluding inter alia that Clara had not exhausted her remedies through the PFHA. [Record No. 82] The PFHA has now filed a motion for attorney's fees. [Record No. 84]

         I.

         The American Rule provides that “[e]ach litigant pays his own attorney's fees, win or lose, unless a statute or contract provides otherwise.” Baker Botts LLP v. ASARCO LLC, 135 S.Ct. 2158');">135 S.Ct. 2158 (2015); Griffin Indus., Inc. v. EPA, 3d 682');">640 F.3d 682, 685 (6th Cir. 2011). Clara is obligated to pay its attorney's fees based on the parties' contractual agreement.

         The PFHA is a nonprofit organization formed in 1972 “to promote the Paso Fino horse and to maintain the integrity of the Registry of the PFHA.” [Record No. 61-5, pp. 2, 18] Clara has been a member of and has registered horses with the PFHA for more than twenty years. [Record No. 1-1, ¶ 7] Clara and Patricia purchased the Mare in Colombia in 2005. [Record No. 61-17');">17');">17');">17, 5');">p. 5] The Mare was originally registered with Fedequinas, a Colombian equine association. The sisters subsequently brought the Mare to the United States and registered her in 2008 with the PFHA. Id. at p. 7.

         The PFHA registration application includes the following statement: “I am aware of and agree to abide by the rules and procedures of the Paso Fino Horse Association and its Registry.” [Record No. 61-3, p. 3] Clara signed the registration application just below this provision. The PFHA Rulebook indicates that “[a]ll members in good standing shall . . . obey and be bound by the Constitution and Rules and regulations of the Association.” [Record No. 61-5, p. 22] The Rulebook also provides:

Reimbursement for Costs in Unsuccessful Challenge to Association, Venue for Legal Action.
The Association has adopted the following provision for the mutual benefit of the members and with the intention of reducing the Association's litigation expenses, which expenses would ultimately be borne by members and nonmembers participating in Association activities. Every member, by joining the Association, or nonmember, by purchasing Paso Fino horses, filing a registration application or other documents with the Association, or participating in Association approved events, does thereby agree as follows:
1. If unsuccessful in an attempt to overturn Association decision[s], actions, rules or regulations, to reimburse the Association for its reasonable attorney's fees, court costs and other expenses in defense of such suit; and
2. That he/she will not commence any action, whether in law or equity, against the Association in any courts other than those federal and state courts located in the state of Kentucky.

         Rulebook IX, J (emphasis in original). [Record No. 61-5, p5');">p. 56-57]

         The PFHA contends that Clara's membership and/or registration of the Mare constitutes a binding agreement to pay attorney's fees. But Clara contends that she should not be required to pay the PFHA's attorney's fees, notwithstanding the language quoted above.

         II.

         Clara first argues that the parties did not enter into a valid contract. The elements of a contract are offer and acceptance, full and complete terms, and consideration. Cantrell Supply, Inc. v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 94 S.W.3d 381, 384 (Ky. Ct. App. 2002). The PFHA has provided a signed registration application in which Clara agreed to abide by the PFHA's rules. Such an application constitutes an offer. See, e.g., Guilbert v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 503 F.2d 587');">503 F.2d 587 (6th Cir. 1974). The PFHA accepted Clara's offer by registering the Mare. Further, the parties exchanged consideration because Clara paid a registration fee in exchange for ...


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