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Hollander v. Etymotic Research

November 1, 2010

BENTLEY A. HOLLANDER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ETYMOTIC RESEARCH, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Petrese B. Tucker, U.S.D.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Tucker, J.

Presently before the Court are Defendant Etymotic Research, Inc.'s Motion for Reconsideration to Transfer Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1401 (a) (Doc. 31); Plaintiff/Relator Bentley Hollander's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 32); Defendant Etymotic Research, Inc.'s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and/or Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) (Doc. 29); Plaintiff/Relator's Response in Opposition thereto (Doc. 35); and Defendant's Motion for Leave to File a Reply (Doc. 36).

For the reasons set forth below, this Court will deny Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff/Relator's Amended Complaint and Defendant's Motion for Reconsideration. This Court also denies Defendant's Motion for Leave to File a Reply.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Bentley Hollander ("Plaintiff") commenced this qui tam action against Defendant Etymotic Research, Inc. ("Defendant") for its alleged violation of the false marking statute, 35 U.S.C. § 292, in connection with its marking of certain earphones and earplugs with expired patent numbers. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant has violated 35 U.S.C. § 292(a) by, inter alia, falsely marking articles with expired patents and using those expired patents in its advertising of the articles for the purpose of deceiving the public into believing that the articles are covered by the expired patents. (Compl. ¶ 2.)

Defendant Etymotic is a research, development, and manufacturing company that designs and manufactures in-ear products, such as earphones, hearing aids, and earplugs. (See Compl. ¶¶ 9-15.) Defendant's scientists, engineers, and audiologists have collaborated to generate over 100 patents. (See Compl. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff claims that, since 1984 and continuing to the present, Defendant has marked, or caused to be marked, products with one or more of the '679 Patent, the '753 Patent, and the '683 Patent.*fn1 (Compl. ¶¶ 16-17.) According to Plaintiff, the '679 Patent expired on July 5, 2004; the '753 Patent expired on October 4, 2005; and the '683 Patent expired on January 27, 2008. (Compl. ¶¶ 20-22.) Defendant's alleged marking and sale of several products with those expired patents has given rise to the instant suit.

On April 19, 2009 Defendant Etymotic filed a Motion to Dismiss the instant action or in the alternative to transfer this action to the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). This Court entered an Order on July 14, 2010 granting in part and denying in part said Motion. Specifically, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or Transfer was granted to the extent that Plaintiff's Complaint was dismissed for failure to state with particularity the circumstances constituting Defendant's alleged false marking. The July 14, 2010 Order granted Plaintiff leave to submit an amended complaint in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b).

LEGAL STANDARD

A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(1)

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), dismissal is warranted where a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a case. Rule 12(b)(1) motions are either facial or factual challenges. CNA v. United States, 535 F.3d 132, 139 (3d Cir. 2008). A facial attack concerns the sufficiency of the pleadings, whereas a factual attack is a dispute over the existence of certain jurisdictional facts alleged by the plaintiff. Id. (citing United States ex rel. Atkinson v. Pa. Shipbuilding Co., 473 F.3d 506, 514 (3d Cir. 2007)). "In reviewing a facial attack, the court must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000). By contrast, when a defendant attacks subject matter jurisdiction "in fact," the court is "free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself whether it has power to hear the case." Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Imps. Ass'n, Inc., 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). In reviewing a factual attack, the court is not confined to the allegations of the complaint. Cestonaro v. United States, 211 F.3d 749, 754 (3d Cir. 2000). No presumption of truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff's allegations, "and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims." Carpet Group Int'l, 227 F.3d at 69 (citation omitted). The plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion regardless of whether the challenge is facial or factual. Henderson v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 169 F. Supp. 2d 365, 367-368 (E.D. Pa. 2001).

B. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6)

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). A complaint should be dismissed only if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium Antitrust Litig., 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not whether that person will ultimately prevail. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). While a court will accept well-pled allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The United States Supreme Court has recognized that "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In Twombly the Court made clear that it would not require a "heightened fact pleading of specifics," but only "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is ...


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