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David Wawrzynski, Plaintiff v. H. J. Heinz Company

March 6, 2012

DAVID WAWRZYNSKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
H. J. HEINZ COMPANY, H.J. HEINZ COMPANY, L.P. AND HEINZ GP LLC, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINON AND ORDER OF COURT

Pending before the Court is DAVID WAWRZYNSKI'S MOTION TO DISMISS COUNTERCLAIM (Doc. No. 33), with brief in support (Doc. No. 34), and Defendants' brief in opposition (Doc. No. 37). The motion is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

Background

On December 16, 2010, Plaintiff filed a two count first amended complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against Defendants H.J. Heinz Company, H.J. Heinz Company, L.P., and Heinz GP, LLC (hereinafter, collectively "Heinz") alleging claims for breach of an implied contract and unjust enrichment. Doc. No. 4. Generally speaking, Plaintiff is an entrepreneur who holds a patent for a method in which food can be dipped and wiped in a condiment container. Id. at ¶¶ 29 -- 32. Plaintiff claims that he met with Heinz research and development and marketing executives in 2008, at which time he "presented ideas for new condiment packaging." See Doc. No. 34. At some point shortly thereafter, Heinz "mysteriously and abruptly stopped communicating with Plaintiff", and subsequently unveiled Heinz' own re-design for condiment packaging. Doc. No. 4 at ¶¶ 40 & 44. Plaintiff's claims derive from the notion that Defendants improperly used his ideas and have not compensated him for them.

On August 25, 2011, the case was transferred from the Eastern District of Michigan to the Western District of Pennsylvania. Doc. No. 19. On September 28, 2011, Defendants answered Plaintiff's amended complaint and brought a two count counterclaim, both of which seek a declaratory judgment as to Plaintiff's patent. See Doc. No. 26. More specifically, with Count I of the counterclaim, Defendants seek a declaratory judgment of their non-infringement of Plaintiff's patent, while count II of the counterclaim seeks a declaratory judgment of the invalidity of the patent. On October 28, 2011, Plaintiff moved to dismiss Defendants' counterclaim (Doc. No. 33) which Defendants' oppose (Doc. No. 37).

Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir.2008)(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir.1993)(requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT & T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, a court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir.1993). A court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n. 13 (3d Cir.1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir.1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429--30 (3d Cir.1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, ---, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of the alleged claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir.2000).

Courts use the same standard in ruling on a motion to dismiss a counterclaim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) as they do for a complaint. See PPG Industries, Inc. v. Generon IGS, Inc., 760 F.Supp.2d 520, 524 (WD Pa. 2011). In view of the appropriate legal standard, this Court must "accept as true all of the allegations in the [Defendant's counterclaims] and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir.1989).

Legal Analysis

Plaintiff moves to dismiss the two count counterclaim in its entirety on the basis that the Court has no jurisdiction over either count. See Doc. Nos. 33 & 34. More particularly, Plaintiff contends that Defendants have not demonstrated the existence of an actual case or controversy sufficient to invoke the Declaratory Judgment Act on Defendants' patent claims because the claims in the amended complaint are not, themselves, patent claims. Doc. No. 34 at § II.B. As such, according to Plaintiff, Defendants have "not presented an actual case or controversy that is ripe for adjudication." Id.

"The ripeness doctrine is 'drawn from the Article III limitations on judicial power and from prudential reasons for refusing to exercise jurisdiction.' ... [and] serves to 'avoid[ ] ... premature adjudication' of legal questions and to prevent courts from 'entangling themselves in abstract' debates that may turn out differently in different settings." National Park Hospitality Ass'n v. Dept. of Interior, 538 U.S. 803, 807-08, 123 S.Ct. 2026, 2030, 155 L.Ed.2d 1017 (2003)(quotations omitted). The Declaratory Judgment Act states that "[i]n a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, ... any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party." 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). The Supreme Court has made clear in patent litigation that "the phrase 'case of actual controversy' in the Act refers to the type of 'Cases' and 'Controversies' that are justiciable under Article III." MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U.S. 118, 126, 127 S.Ct. 764, 166 L.Ed.2d 604 (2007)(citing Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240, 57 S.Ct. 461, 81 L.Ed. 617 (1937)). Consequently, a party asserting a claim under the Declaratory Judgment Act must establish that it has standing to sue, and there exists a controversy between the parties that is not moot and is ripe. These considerations often "boil down to the same question." See id. at 128 n. 8, 127 S.Ct. 764.

Before 2007, the Federal Circuit applied a two-part test for determining justiciability of a declaratory judgment action:

There must be both (1) an explicit threat or other action by the patentee, which creates a reasonable apprehension on the part of the declaratory plaintiff that it will face an infringement suit, and (2) present activity which could constitute infringement ...


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