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Riordan v. H.J. Heinz Co.

August 12, 2009

DENNIS RIORDAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
H.J. HEINZ COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

Judge Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

This action involves pro se Plaintiff Dennis Riordan's ("Plaintiff") claims against H.J. Heinz Company ("Defendant" or "Heinz") related to Defendant's sale of its condiments in an upside-down bottle. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's sales infringed upon his intellectual property rights and constituted unlawful misappropriation. (Docket No. 25). Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Docket No. 26) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Docket No. 25) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.For the reasons discussed herein, Defendant's motion is GRANTED.

II. Factual Background*fn1

A. Plaintiff's Initial Contact with Defendant

Plaintiff alleges that he initiated contact with Defendant on January 28, 1999 by sending a letter to Dan Vogus of Defendant's legal department, informing him that he recently applied for a patent on a container that would be "highly advantageous" to Defendant's business. (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 7). Specifically, the letter stated that the device is a "unique innovation that allows you to provide the consumer with two (2) products occupying the same vertical space (Space Saver), e.g., mustard and catsup." (Docket No. 27-2). On February 1, 1999, Defendant responded that it does not, as a matter of policy, accept any unsolicited submission of ideas from outside the company absent a written understanding defining the conditions relating to such unsolicited submissions. (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 8). Defendant informed Plaintiff that he must execute and return the "Request for Consideration of Idea" form attached to the response letter from Defendant to consider Plaintiff's proposed device. (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 8).

Plaintiff signed, executed and mailed the "Request for Consideration of Idea" form on April 20, 1999 along with a minimal description of his idea and the drawings of his bottling concept. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that through all of his correspondence with Defendant, including the submission of this form and its attachments, Plaintiff provided "confidential knowledge" to Heinz and introduced the concept of an "upside-down" bottle to Defendant. (Docket No. 25 at ¶¶ 3, 7-8). Heinz responded to Plaintiff in June of 1999, thanking him for his letter regarding a potential new bottle, but ultimately rejecting his idea after reviewing the concept with the appropriate department. (Id. at ¶ 10).

B. Plaintiff's Idea

At various times throughout the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff describes his alleged intellectual property interest as either a "concept/idea" (see Docket No. 25 (passim)), "innovative concept/ideas towards a futuristic innovative invention" (Id. at ¶ 3), a "Bottling concept" (Id. at ¶ 3), "Bottle art-work" (Id. at ¶ 6), "innovative terminology" (Id. at ¶ 9), and "verbal property." (Id. at ¶ 22). Plaintiff does mention that the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued him the patent number 6,105,812 ("the '812 Patent") for a device described as a "dual chamber container." (Id. at ¶ 11). Plaintiff further avers that in a document captioned "The 2 Liter Flavor Saver," he "expressly referenced the bottling concept: [s]ymmetrical base allows identical 2 way [sic] spout. Ultimately, this innovative shape is neither up-side down nor right-side up. Promotionally, 2 chances to win." (Id. at ¶ 20).

C. Defendant's Introduction of its "Upside-Down" Bottle to the Consumer Market

On August 28, 2002, Defendant issued a press release announcing the introduction of its "No Wait, No Mess (TM), upside-down ketchup bottle." (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 12). In January of 2006, Plaintiff contacted Defendant's legal department to request copies of their previous correspondence. (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 15). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant informed him that he had been "red-flagged" in their system and an attorney for Defendant asked Plaintiff if he was going to sue for any reason. (Id.).

The crux of Plaintiff's claim is that Defendant, without seeking Plaintiff's permission, misappropriated the ideas Plaintiff allegedly introduced in his earlier correspondence with Defendant to develop an "upside-down" bottle. (See Docket No. 25 at ¶¶ 17-18, 21).

III. Procedural History

Plaintiff initially commenced this action by filing his Complaint pro se in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. (Docket No. 4). Thereafter, on August 11, 2008, that Court entered an order transferring the case to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (Id.). On August 22, 2008, Plaintiff moved for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 5), which this Court denied. (Docket No. 6). After paying the proper filing fee on August 25, 2008, Plaintiff filed his Complaint with this Court. (Docket No. 8).

On October 20, 2008, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6), 12(e), and, in the alternative, Rule 12(d) and 56. (Docket No. 11). Plaintiff filed his response on December 23, 2008. (Docket No. 18). Then, on December 30, 2008, upon consideration of the parties' submissions, this Court ordered Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 22).

On February 17, 2009, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 25). In turn, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on March 5, 2009. (Docket No. 26). On April 20, 2009, after being granted an extension, Plaintiff filed his Response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support of same. (Docket Nos. 30 and 31). Defendant filed its Reply Brief on May 4, 2009 (Docket No. 32). Plaintiff filed his Sur-Reply in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on May 26, 2009. (Docket No. 33). As briefing has concluded, Defendant's motion is now ripe for disposition.

IV. Legal Standard

A valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). "To survive a motion to dismiss, 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)(quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2008)).

The Supreme Court in Iqbal clarified that the decision in Twombly "expounded the pleading standard for 'all civil actions.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1953. The court further explained that although a court must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in a complaint, that requirement does not apply to legal conclusions; therefore, the pleadings must include factual allegations to support the legal claims asserted. Id. at 1949, 1953. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The determination of whether a complaint contains a plausible claim for relief "is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Accordingly, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

Additionally, because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his allegations are to be liberally construed as he is held to a less stringent standard than attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see also Washam v. Stesis, Civ. A. No. 08-3869, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 7768, at *3 (3d Cir. Apr. 10, 2009).

When a motion to dismiss is granted, the grant or denial of opportunity to amend is within the discretion of the district court. Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 115 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962)). Futility is a ground that could justify a denial of leave to amend. Id. "Futility" means that the complaint, as amended, "would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted." Id. (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir. 1997)). In assessing "futility" the district court applies the same standard of legal sufficiency as set forth under Rule 12(b)(6). See 2 JAMES WM. MOORE ET AL., MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE, ยง 15.15[3], at 15-47 to 15-48 (3d ed. 2000). Accordingly, "if a claim is vulnerable to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) but the ...


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