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Cobalt Boats, LLC v. Brunswick Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

December 8, 2017

COBALT BOATS, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
BRUNSWICK CORP., Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          HENRY COKE MORGAN, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Brunswick Corporation's ("Brunswick's" or "Defendant's") Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law and a New Trial, Doc. 356 ("Motions"). For the reasons stated herein, the Court DENIES the instant Motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court held an eight (8) day trial in this matter between June 12, 2017 and June 21, 2017. See Docs. 317-337. The jury returned a verdict that Brunswick literally infringed claim 4 of U.S. Patent No. 8, 375, 880 ("the '880 patent"), infringed claims 4 and 5 of the '880 patent under the doctrine of equivalents, and willfully infringed both of those claims. Doc. 338. The jury calculated the reasonable royalty per unit as $2, 500, with an award of $2, 690, 000. Id. The Court entered judgment on June 23, 2017. Doc. 347.

         Brunswick timely filed the instant Motions on July 21, 2017. Doc. 356. Cobalt responded on August 4, 2017. Doc. 384. Brunswick replied on August 10, 2017. Doc. 387. On October 31, 2017, the Court ruled on several post-trial Motions affecting the judgment. Doc. 412. The Court gave Brunswick twenty-one (21) days to make any necessary amendments to the instant Motions in light of the amended judgment. Doc. 414. On November 20, 2017, Brunswick filed a notice that it intends to rely on its Motions as previously filed. Doc. 416. Both Parties also filed notices of new Federal Circuit opinions regarding patent venue. See Docs. 415, 417.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

         Rule 50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to renew, within twenty-eight (28) days after the entry of judgment, a motion for judgment as a matter of law made pursuant to Rule 50(a) that was not granted by the Court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). Rule 50(a) explains that such a motion "must specify the judgment sought and the law and facts that entitle the movant to the judgment." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(2). The Court may grant such a motion if it finds "that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on [the relevant] issue." Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1). The Court may not, however, "disturb the verdict where there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find in the non-movant's favor." Dotson v. Pfizer. Inc.. 558 F.3d 284, 292 (4th Cir. 2009).[1] In deciding whether to grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the Court must view the evidence "in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, " id, and may not make credibility determinations, see Price v. City of Charlotte, 93 F.3d 1241, 1249 (4th Cir. 1996).

         B. Motion for a New Trial

         Rule 59(a)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows the Court, on motion, to grant a new trial "after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court[.]" Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). A "decision on a motion for a new trial rests within the sound discretion of the trial court." City of Richmond v. Atlantic Co.. 273 F.2d 902, 916 (4th Cir. 1960).

         On a motion for a new trial in the Fourth Circuit, it is the duty of the trial court to set aside the verdict and grant a new trial if "(1) the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, or (2) is based upon evidence which is false, or (3) will result in a miscarriage of justice, even though there may be substantial evidence which would prevent the direction of a verdict." Atlas Food Sys. & Servs.. Inc. v. Crane Nat'l Vendors. Inc.. 99 F.3d 587, 594 (4th Cir. 1996). The first and second prongs are factual determinations. Fairshter v. American Nat'l Red Cross. 322 F.Supp.2d 646, 650 (E.D. Va. 2004) (citing Atlas Food Sys. & Servs.. Inc.. 99 F.3d at 594). "The third prong requires a policy analysis under which the 'judge's unique vantage point and day-to-day experience with such matters lend expertise.'" Id. (quoting same). On a Rule 59 motion, the Court "may make credibility judgments in determining the clear weight of the evidence." Lovell v. BBNT Solutions. LLC. 295 F.Supp.2d 611, 618 (E.D. Va. 2003) (citing Knussman v. Maryland. 272 F.3d 625, 647 (4th Cir. 2001)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Brunswick's Motions rely on selectively citing portions of the record that are favorable to its view. It cites the disputed opinions of its liability and damages experts as the basis for its Motions on each of the three major issues - the lock, the 180 degree rotation, and damages - and presumes that its experts are more credible than Cobalt's experts in making its arguments. It also cherry picks random statements to support its flawed analysis in the face of substantial testimony to the contrary and other persuasive evidence in the record. Setting aside Brunswick's biased selective reading of the record and viewing the record as a whole, the Court DENIES the Motions as explained in further detail infra.

         A. Infringement of Claim 4's "Spring Biased Locking Mechanism"

         Little of the evidence at trial on this issue varied from the evidence at summary judgment, and thus, much of the Court's rulings at summary judgment still hold true:

The Delrin washer appears to act as a spring, contrary to Defendants' assertions otherwise, see Doc. 137 at 6, as it flexes in reaction to the movement of the detent on the arm. The detent and Delrin washer test the limits of the patent terms beyond the spring action of the washer, though. Defendants are correct that the Delrin washer does not completely bias movement of the detent, as some measure of force allows the detent to move, but Plaintiff is also correct that it biases movement to some extent, as the mechanism would be completely ineffective in holding the step in a deployed position otherwise. Furthermore, it appears from the Parties' discussion of pins that Defendants' product would more clearly infringe the patent if the pin moved on a spring to escape the washer rather than the washer springing to escape the pin. See Doc. 137 at 6-7; Doc. 128 at 17-19. Thus, the underlying issue appears to be whether a "spring biased locking mechanism" requires a springing pin interacting with the step or whether a springing washer and a static pin can also qualify as such a mechanism.

Doc. 169 at 9. Nothing offered at trial or in this briefing changes the fact that the jury could reasonably conclude that the mechanism at issue was a spring biased locking mechanism.

         Brunswick first asserts that both Parties' experts testified at trial that Brunswick's step does not hold a movable arm in a stationary position. Doc. 357 at 4. As Cobalt rightly calls out, Doc. 384 at 3-4, this is just a misinterpretation of the record. Reading just the few pages of cross-examination testimony would tell any reasonable observer that Cobalt's expert Thomas Dyer ("Dyer") believed that Brunswick's hinge does hold a movable arm in a stationary position. Trial Tr. (hereinafter "Tr.") at 481:9-483:4. His explanation was that the hinge holds the movable arm in a stationary position when the step is in water. See Id. at 481:17-82:3 (discussing buoyancy). Brunswick appears to be confusing its expert Dr. Charles Garris's ("Garris's") characterization of Dyer's opinion with Dyer's actual testimony at trial. Brunswick clarified on cross-examination that Dyer believed that the hole where the locking occurred in Brunswick's step was where the abutment held the pin. Id. at 476:1-77:13. Garris interpreted Dyer's testimony to be that the locking occurred from the apex of the protrusion to the abutment, which is a range of motion. Id. at 904:15-25. His interpretation is wrong, as Dyer offered no such testimony. For Rule 50 purposes, the Court cannot reweigh the credibility of the witnesses, and the jury could reasonably conclude that Dyer's testimony was credible. For Rule 59 purposes, the Court FINDS Dyer's testimony more credible than Garris's because Garris ignored that the step is "for use with a boat in water, " as stated in the patent. See '880 patent at 4:15-16, 39-40. He observed that the stud "isn't even touching the Delrin washer, " see Tr. at 894:7-8, omitting the key fact that it is not touching when on dry land. His errant characterization of Dyer's testimony further undermines his credibility because it caused him to address a fictional analysis rather than rebut Dyer's opinion. As the Court observed in summary judgment, there is a reasonable question here of whether a Delrin washer that biases movement to some extent but does not completely bias movement of the detent is sufficiently biasing the pin to qualify as holding it in a stationary position. See Doc. 169 at 9. This question of fact was properly a jury question, and Brunswick cannot seek judgment as a matter of law or a new trial by substituting its expert opinion for the opinion of Cobalt's expert.

         Brunswick's argument about the spring not biasing anything suffers from similar problems. It relies on two (2) facts: that the Delrin washer's protrusion does not touch the pin, and that the protrusion does not push the pin into the locked position. See Doc. 357 at 5 (citations omitted). The first "fact" assesses the step when on land, not in water, and is clearly errant. The second alleged fact ignores Dyer's opinion that such pushing is not necessary for biasing, as Dyer's theory is that the protrusion biases the pin when it is fully locked in water. The jury reasonably accepted Dyer's interpretation that the protrusion biases the pin in water and that such biasing satisfies the patent, and the jury was not required to accept Brunswick's alternative theory of what is required for biasing. The Court cannot grant judgment as a matter of law or a new trial based upon Brunswick's contested theory that no biasing occurred at all, nor does it find any persuasive reason to prefer Brunswick's definition of biasing over Cobalt's definition.

         Finally, Brunswick's argument about whether the hinge had a mechanical lock omits the evidence that is inconvenient to its position. Dyer testified that the detent system used in Brunswick's hinge is a mechanical lock by citing dictionaries defining a detent as a mechanism that locks. Tr. at 446:17-448:22. The argument that tape or gravity can hold elements in place, see Doc. 357 at 5, is irrelevant because no one testified that tape or gravity are mechanisms. Garris opined that he would not use dictionary definitions, but he offered no other recognized definition beyond his own testimony that would contradict the dictionary definition. See Tr. at 915:9-916:14 (referring to sources he would prefer but not actually citing any of them). Brunswick also cherry-picks quotations from the Markman transcript to contest the meaning of a mechanical lock. See Id. It appears that Brunswick wants to use selective transcript quotes to recapture its interlock construction in post-trial motions, which the Court will not allow. .See Doc. Ill. at 36:19-37:8 (rejecting this argument). The argument that one Cobalt inventor, Timothy Kaiser ("Kaiser"), wanted a positive lock, see Doc. 357 at 6, is contrasted in the record by the argument that one Brunswick engineer, Nathan Holmes ("Holmes"), viewed Brunswick's detent as a lock, see Doc. 384 at 6. Viewing the entire record, the Court has no basis for granting judgment as a matter of law or a new trial here.

         The Court FINDS that this lock issue was still a question of fact. The jury had sufficient evidence to conclude that a springing washer and a static pin qualified as a "spring biased locking mechanism" just as a springing pin and a static washer would clearly qualify as such. No claim vitiation occurs with such a finding because the jury could properly find on the evidence that a detent is a locking mechanism, and such a finding would still prevent options like tape or gravity from meeting the elements of the patent claim. Thus, the Court DENIES Brunswick's instant Motions as to literal infringement and infringement under the doctrine of equivalents of Claim 4's spring biased locking mechanism.

         B. Infringement of Claim 5's "Means for Locking"

         The jury found no literal infringement of Claim 5, see Doc. 338, which means that the issue here is whether they could reasonably find infringement under the doctrine of equivalents. As Brunswick essentially concedes, any argument here relies on the same analysis offered under Claim 4's spring biased locking mechanism. See Doc. 357 at 9 ("This argument fails, however, for the same reasons that the Swim Step lacks the spring biased locking mechanism of claim 4.") If the hinge is a literal spring biased locking mechanism under Claim 4, or even if it is just the equivalent of such a mechanism under Claim 4, it is clearly the equivalent of a "spring biased sliding pin mechanism" for the means for locking under Claim 5. The sliding pin is just one variant of a spring biased locking mechanism, and any other spring biased locking mechanism would inevitably perform substantially the same function in substantially the same way to reach substantially the same ...


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