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No Second Bite at the Apple: Dismissal under Duplicative-Litigation Doctrine

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal of a second case between the same parties and asserting the same patent under the duplicative-litigation doctrine. Arendi S.A.R.L. v. LG Elecs. Inc., Case No. 2021-1967 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 7, 2022) (Prost, Chen, Stoll, JJ.)

Arendi sued LG and others for infringement of several patents. Pursuant to Delaware’s local rules requiring identification of accused products, Arendi identified hundreds of LG products as infringing four asserted claims of the patent relevant on appeal. For those accused products, Arendi provided one “exemplary” infringement claim chart for LG’s Rebel 4 phone. LG objected to Arendi, stating that it should have provided charts for all accused products.

As the litigation proceeded, the parties agreed on eight products as representative but, despite LG’s repeated objection, Arendi did not provide claim charts for any additional products during fact discovery. Instead, Arendi’s opening expert report on infringement provided claim charts for seven non-Rebel 4 representative products for the first time. LG moved to strike those portions of the expert report. The district court granted that motion. Arendi did not supplement its claim charts in response to the court’s order and instead filed another complaint in Delaware, thus creating a second concurrent case asserting the same patent against LG. After the district court granted LG’s motion to dismiss the second suit, Arendi appealed.

The Federal Circuit explained the standard for assertion of the duplicative-litigation doctrine, which “prevents plaintiffs from ‘maintain[ing] two separate actions involving the same subject matter at the same time in the same court … against the same defendant.’” Whether two cases involve the same subject matter depends on the extent of factual overlap of the asserted patents and accused products. There was no dispute that the same patent was asserted in both cases, but Arendi disputed that the cases involved the same accused products, citing the district court’s order striking its expert report as evidence that the non-Rebel 4 products were not at issue in the first case.

Like the district court, the Federal Circuit disagreed. The Court distinguished between accusing products and satisfying discovery obligations regarding those products. Arendi listed the non-Rebel 4 products in its disclosure of accused products, served interrogatories about them, received discovery on them and included non-Rebel 4 products in its expert report. Thus, even though Arendi “failed to fulfill its discovery obligations” as to those products, which made its expert report untimely, the non-Rebel 4 products were still accused, at issue and litigated in the first case. Thus, dismissal of the second case under the duplicative-litigation doctrine was not an error.

Practice Note: In a footnote, the Federal Circuit acknowledged the similarity of the duplicative-litigation doctrine to res judicata (claim preclusion). Although both doctrines involve an inquiry into whether claims in the second suit are repetitious, unlike res judicata, the duplicative-litigation doctrine does not require a final judgment in the first case.

Res Judicata on Procedural Grounds Precludes Similar Claims Arising After Prior Judgment

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a district court decision that res judicata can apply to dismissals on procedural grounds and to claims arising after a prior judgment. Sowinski v. California Air Resources Board, Case No. 19-1558 (Fed. Cir. Aug. 21, 2020) (Newman, J.)

Richard Sowinski is the inventor of a patent directed to an “electronic method and apparatus for validating and trading consumer pollution-control tax credits.” In a first set of lawsuits starting in 2015, Sowinski sued the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in state court, alleging infringement by CARB’s Cap-and-Trade Program. CARB removed the case to district court and filed several motions to dismiss. The district court dismissed the complaint after Sowinski failed to respond to these motions before the deadline. The dismissal was upheld on appeal.

As part of a second round of lawsuits starting in 2018, Sowinski filed a complaint in federal court that was “substantially identical” to the 2015 case, except the 2018 complaint sought infringement damages arising after the 2015 case decision. CARB moved to dismiss, arguing that the claim was barred based on the doctrine of res judicata, which prevents a civil claim from being tried if it arises out of the “same transaction or common nucleus of operative facts” of a prior case where the merits were adjudicated. The district court agreed and granted CARB’s motion to dismiss. Sowinski appealed.

Sowinski argued that res judicata did not apply to his case because the prior suit was resolved on procedural grounds, not the merits of infringement, and because the current complaint sought infringement damages occurring after the conclusion of his last lawsuit. For res judicata on what Sowinski called a “technicality,” the Federal Circuit applied Ninth Circuit procedural law. Under Ninth Circuit law, preclusion applies when a prior suit involved the same claim as the later suit, reached a final judgment on the merits and involved identical parties. The Court also noted that for preclusion purposes, dismissal for failure to prosecute is an adjudication on the merits. Applying these factors, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision, explaining that res judicata generally applies when “a patentee seeks to assert the same patent against the same party and the same subject matter.”

The Federal Circuit found that preclusion can also apply to claims arising after the prior judgment, explaining that one cannot challenge the repetition of an act in a subsequent suit if the act was judged not wrongful. The Court explained that preclusion applies when the accused products or methods are essentially the same. Here, CARB activity was held not to be infringing in the 2015 case because of Sowinski’s failure to respond, and Sowinski’s 2018 complaint described CARB’s ongoing activities as the same as those in the 2015 case. The Federal Circuit therefore affirmed the district court’s decision, explaining that Sowinski alleged no different conduct or acts against the same defendant.