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Exmark Manufacturing Company Inc. v. Briggs & Stratton Power Product Group, LLC

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

May 11, 2016



Joseph F. Bataillon Senior United States District Judge

This matter is before the court on defendant Briggs and Stratton Power Products Group, LLC's ("Briggs's") motion for judgment as a matter of law, remittitur, and for a new trial on damages, Filing No. 654, and for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial on willful infringement, Filing No. 656.[1]


This is an action for patent infringement that was tried to a jury on September 8-11, 2015, and September 14-17, 2015. Prior to trial, the court found as a matter of law that Exmark's '863 patent was valid and that defendant Briggs's original mower deck design (versions 1-4) infringed the patent. Filing No. 476, Memorandum and Order at 26-28. The jury was asked to assess damages for that infringement and to determine whether that infringement was willful. It was also asked to determine whether Briggs's redesigned mower deck (versions 5-7) infringed the patent and whether that infringement, if any, was willful. Filing No. 599, Verdict.

The jury found the redesigned mower deck did not infringe. Id. at 1. It assessed damages in the amount of $24, 280, 330.00 for infringement in connection with the original mower deck designs and found the infringement had been willful. Id. at 1-2.

Briggs first argues it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on damages because Exmark failed as a matter of law to establish the amount of damages by a preponderance of evidence. It argues that Exmark's damages expert, Melissa Bennis, based her damages opinion on the entire value of an accused mower without apportioning value to the patented flow control baffle feature or establishing that that feature drove customer demand for those products. It contends that establishing those factors is a necessary predicate to determining damages. Alternatively, Briggs contends it is entitled to remittitur or to a new trial on damages. It argues that the jury was precluded from considering certain evidence that would have undermined the damages award; to wit, evidence that Exmark had knowingly allowed fourteen other companies to infringe the ‘863 patent, and evidence of prior art.

Briggs also argues it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on willfulness. It challenges the court's finding that Briggs's actions were objectively reckless in that its invalidity defenses were not reasonable. See Filing No. 564, Order at 3 (finding as a matter of law that no reasonable litigant could realistically expect Briggs's invalidity defenses to succeed).[2] In this connection, it argues that it presented credible invalidity and noninfringement defenses to the PTO that preclude any finding of objective recklessness.

Briggs also argues that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the subjective prong of the willfulness determination because there is no substantial evidence that Briggs knew or should have known that it was infringing a valid claim of the '863 Patent. In this connection, it argues that Exmark "tried to prove that Briggs knew or should have known about the ‘863 patent, but it did not attempt to show that Briggs knew or should have known that it was infringing a valid claim of that patent." See Filing No. 657, Briggs's Brief at 17.[3] Alternatively, Briggs argues it is entitled to a new trial on the subjective prong because the verdict is against the great weight of the evidence so as to constitute a miscarriage of justice. Its argument is based on certain evidentiary rulings that it contends precluded Briggs from presenting evidence of prior art that would have shown that, even if Briggs knew about the patent, it would not have known of an objectively high risk that it was infringing a valid claim.

Relevant facts are set forth in the court's previous orders and in other opinions on post-trial motions and are incorporated herein by reference. See Filing No. 565, Memorandum and Order (motions in limine); Filing No. 564, Order (sua sponte); Filing No. 477, Memorandum and Order (Daubert motions); Filing No. 476, Memorandum and Order (summary judgment); Filing No. 476 (summary judgment) claim construction); Filing No. 156 (claim construction); Filing No. 687, Memorandum and Order (Laches); Filing No. 689, Memorandum and Order (enhanced damages and attorney fees).


A. Judgment as a Matter of Law/New trial

In a patent case, motions for summary judgment and judgment as a matter of law are decided under the law of the regional circuit. MobileMedia Ideas LLC v. Apple Inc., 780 F.3d 1159, 1164 (Fed. Cir.), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 270 (2015). Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b), a court must affirm the jury's verdict unless, in viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party, the court concludes that a reasonable jury could not have found for that party. Hite v. Vermeer Mfg. Co., 446 F.3d 858, 865 (8th Cir. 2006). In "reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, [the] court draws 'all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party without making credibility assessments or weighing the evidence.'" Dean v. County of Gage, Neb., 807 F.3d 931, 939 (8th Cir. 2015) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1)). "A Rule 50(a) motion is proper only if 'a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.'" Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1)); Moran v. Clarke, 296 F.3d 638, 643 (8th Cir. 2002) (en banc)(“Such a ruling is appropriate only when all the evidence points one way and is susceptible of no reasonable inferences sustaining the position of the non-moving party.”). A post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law may be granted only if there was “‘a complete absence of probative facts to support the conclusion reached’ so that no reasonable juror could have found for the nonmoving party.” Sheriff v. Midwest Health Partners, P.C., 619 F.3d 923, 928 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Hathaway v. Runyon, 132 F.3d 1214, 1220 (8th Cir. 1997)).

A motion for a new trial or amendment of judgment under Fed R. Civ. P. 59 serves the limited function of allowing a court to correct manifest errors of law or fact or allowing a party to present newly discovered evidence. United States v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist., 440 F.3d 930, 934-35 (8th Cir. 2006). Such motions cannot be used to introduce new evidence, tender new legal theories, or raise arguments which could have been offered or raised prior to entry of judgment. Id. Rule 59(e) “provides a means ‘to support reconsideration [by the court] of matters properly encompassed in a decision on the merits.’” Leonard v. Dorsey and Whitney, LLP, 553 F.3d 609, 620 (8th Cir. 2009). Under rule 59(e), the court may reconsider issues previously before it, and generally may examine the correctness of the judgment itself. Id. Under Rule 60, relief from judgment is available under the catch-all provision of the rule, Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6), “‘only where exceptional circumstances have denied the moving party a full and fair opportunity to litigate his claim and have prevented the moving party from receiving adequate redress.’” Murphy v. Missouri Dept. of Corrections, 506 F.3d 1111, 1117 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Harley v. Zoesch, 413 F.3d 866, 871 (8th Cir. 2005)).

New trials based on the weight of the evidence are generally disfavored, and the district court’s authority to grant a new trial should be exercised sparingly and with caution. United States v. Campos, 306 F.3d 577, 579 (8th Cir. 2002). The jury’s verdict must be allowed to stand unless the evidence weighs heavily enough against the verdict that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred. United States v. Lacey, 219 F.3d 779, 783 (8th Cir. 2000); United States v. Anwar, i(stating that a district court may weigh the evidence and evaluate for itself the credibility of the witnesses in determining whether a new trial is warranted). A new trial is favored over a remittitur when a court finds that passion or prejudice has influenced a jury's damage award on the ...

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