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Artrip v. Ball Corp.

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

August 24, 2017

JERRY ARTRIP, Plaintiff,
v.
BALL CORPORATION, ET AL., Defendants.

          Dale R. Jensen, Dale Jensen, PLC, Staunton, Virginia, and Stephen C. Swift, Swift & Swift, Attorneys at Law, P.L.L.C., Alexandria, Virginia, for Plaintiff;

          John D. Luken, Jeffrey P. Hinebaugh, and Nicole S. Nan, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Steven R. Minor, Elliott Lawson & Minor, Bristol, Virginia, for Defendants Ball Corporation and Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp.; Mark M. Supko and Michael H. Jacobs, Crowell & Moring LLP, Washington, D.C., for Defendant Alcoa Inc.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones United States District Judge

         The plaintiff, Jerry Artrip, has asserted claims of direct patent infringement against defendants Ball Corporation and Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp. (collectively, “Ball”), as well as claims of induced infringement and contributory infringement against defendant Alcoa Inc. (“Alcoa”), all in violation of 35 U.S.C. § 271. Both Ball and Alcoa have moved to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In response, Artrip opposes the motion to dismiss and, alternatively, seeks leave to further amend his Second Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, I will deny in part and grant in part the Motion to Dismiss by Ball, grant the request to amend the claims against Ball, grant the Motion to Dismiss by Alcoa, and deny Artrip's request to amend his claims against Alcoa.[1]

         I. Procedural History.

         Artrip initially filed this case pro se, alleging that “The Ball Company” and “Alcoa Aluminum Company” had infringed one of his assigned patents. Some months later, Artrip obtained counsel, who subsequently filed a First Amended Complaint alleging that Ball Corporation and Alcoa had infringed eight of Artrip's assigned patents.[2] Both Ball and Alcoa filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. In its motion, Ball asserted, among other things, that Artrip's suit was barred by the doctrine of laches. In accord with Rule 12(d), I converted the motions to dismiss into motions for summary judgment and permitted the parties to further respond to this issue.

         Before I had ruled on summary judgment, Artrip sought leave to further amend his lawsuit, asserting that a “proposed Second Amended Complaint [would] better state his claims.” Mot. to Amend 1, ECF No. 59. I granted the motion, and the Second Amended Complaint added Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp. as a third defendant and alleged that all three defendants - Ball Corporation, Ball Metal Beverage Container Corp., and Alcoa Inc. - had infringed six of Artrip's assigned patents.

         Two days later, following appropriate notice to the parties, I stayed the case pending the Federal Circuit's en banc reconsideration of its long-standing adherence to laches as a defense in patent cases. The en banc court upheld the defense, SCA Hygiene Products Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Products, LLC, 807 F.3d 1311, 1315 (Fed. Cir. 2015), but the Supreme Court granted certiorari, eventually overruling the Federal Circuit, holding that laches is not a viable defense where the alleged infringement occurred within the Patent Act's six-year limitations period. SCA Hygiene Prods. Aktiebolag v. First Quality Baby Prods., LLC, 137 S.Ct. 954, 967 (2017). Based on the Supreme Court's decision, I lifted the stay and denied the defendants' motions asserting the defense of laches.

         Ball and Alcoa then filed new motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) as to Artrip's Second Amended Complaint. Artrip opposes the motions and, alternatively, requests leave to further amend. The motions have been fully briefed and orally argued and are ripe for consideration.

         II. Factual Summary.

         The Second Amended Complaint alleges the following facts, which I must accept as true for the purpose of deciding the present motions.

         Between February 2000 and March 2008, Donald Artrip was issued six patents related to the manufacture of lift-tab can ends. “Lift-tabs” are the metal tabs used to open metal beverage cans. “Lift-tab can ends” are the ends of the cans with the lift-tabs attached. These patents were assigned to Donald Artrip's father, plaintiff Jerry Artrip, throughout 2006.[3] The six patents claimed in the Second Amended Complaint are as follows:

• A System and Method When Forming Lift-Tab Can Assemblies - No. 6, 022, 179 ('179);
• A System for Forming and Attaching Lift-Tabs to Can Ends - No. 7, 063, 492 ('492);
• A System for Forming and Securing Lift-Tabs to Can Ends Having a Drive Belt - No. 7, 234, 907 ('907);
• A System for Forming and Securing Lift-Tabs to Can Ends Having Independent Tab Press and Conversion Press - No. 7, 237, 998 ('998);
• A System for Forming and Securing Lift-Tabs to Can Ends Having Two Frames - No. 7, 237, 999 ('999); and
• A System for Forming and Securing Lift-Tabs to Can Ends Having a Bridge - No. 7, 344, 347 ('347).

Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, & 18, ECF No. 64.

         Artrip alleges that Ball directly infringed each of these patents by “using” the “system” or “system and method” that “embod[y] the patented invention[s].” Id. at ¶¶ 4, 7, 10, 13, 16, & 19. He does not make any additional allegations as to Ball.

         Artrip also alleges that Alcoa indirectly infringed each of these patents by supplying “material, ” or “food grade coiled aluminum sheets with special coating, ” for use in the manufacture of lift-tab can ends. Id. at ¶¶ 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, & 20. He first asserts that Alcoa actively induced infringement of the patents by “supplying material for use in practicing” the patented inventions “that knowingly aid[ed] the direct infringement of such patent[s].” Id. Artrip also asserts that Alcoa contributorily infringed each of the patents by “supplying material for use in practicing the patented invention[s], ” that the material supplied “[met] required specification for said invention[s], ” that the material supplied “constitut[ed] a material part of the invention[s], ” that Alcoa knew the material was “especially made or especially adapted for use in an infringement of such patent[s], ” and that the material was “not a staple article or commodity of commerce suitable for substantial noninfringing use.” Id. Artrip does not make any additional allegations as to Alcoa. He does allege that neither he nor Donald Artrip had a duty to provide Ball or Alcoa with notice of the alleged infringement. Id. at ¶ 21. He seeks damages from both Ball and Alcoa for any infringement that occurred within specified periods of time.[4]

         III. Applicable Law.

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a claim for relief to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Generally, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss” under Rule 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572, and it must view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 406 (2002).

         However, this “tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Although legal conclusions can “provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. at 679.

         This standard has not always applied to cases involving patents. Prior to December 1, 2015, a plaintiff in a direct patent infringement case needed only adhere to Form 18. Form 18, part of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure's now-abrogated Appendix of Forms, provided a sample complaint for direct patent infringement. Its pleading ...


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