United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION [Dkts. ##161, 162]
RICHARD J. LEON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Company Limited and its leader, Shigeru Tamai (collectively
"Seed" or "plaintiffs"), brought this
suit against their former attorneys, Westerman, Hattori,
Daniels, and Adrian, LLP (the "Westerman
defendants") and Kratz, Quintos, and Hanson, LLP (the
"Kratz defendants"), alleging legal malpractice
arising out of an unsuccessful patent application. Before the
Court is the Westerman defendants' Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings as to Count II [Dkt. #161], and the Kratz
defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Counts III and
IV of the Amended Complaint [Dkt. #162]. Upon consideration
of the pleadings, relevant law, and the entire record herein,
the Court will GRANT the motions.
issue in this case is whether Tamai, an inventor of a
dispenser of white correctional tape, can recover for
malpractice against his company's former attorneys
following the mishandling of a U.S. patent application and
the award of the patent to another inventor, Christopher J.
Stevens. The background has been set forth in detail by our
Court of Appeals and by this Court. See Seed Co. Ltd. v.
Westerman, 832 F.3d 325, 329-31 (D.C. Cir. 2016)
("Seed II") Seed Co. Ltd. v.
Westerman, 62 F.Supp.3d 56, 59-62 (D.D.C. 2014)
("Seed I"). The Court will thus limit its
present statement of the facts to that necessary for the
allege that defendants committed legal malpractice by failing
to file an English-language translation of their
international Patent Cooperation Treaty ("PCT")
application and by giving erroneous advice about the
implications of a patent suit in the Federal Circuit. The
first and second counts of the amended complaint assert that
both the Westerman and Kratz defendants are responsible for
these errors. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 42-52 (May 29, 2008)
[Dkt. #29].' The third and fourth counts, which are
contingent on the dismissal of the first two counts on
statute-of-limitations grounds, name only the Kratz
defendants and allege that these defendants committed
malpractice by giving erroneous advice concerning the statute
of limitations for plaintiffs' primary claims. Am. Compl.
¶¶ 53-66. Following the close of discovery,
defendants moved for summary judgment. I found that
plaintiffs' claims were not barred by the statute of
limitations, granted judgment for defendants on count one and
two, and dismissed counts three and four as moot. Seed
I, 62 F.Supp.3d at 67.
Court of Appeals reversed. Although the court agreed that the
first and second counts were timely as to the Westerman
defendants, it held that they were untimely as to the Kratz
defendants. Seed II, 832 F.3d at 335. On the merits,
the court held that the Westerman defendants were not
entitled to summary judgment on count one because plaintiffs
had raised "a genuine dispute of material fact about
whether the defendants' decision [not to file a
translation of the PCT application] could have been
characterized as an exercise of professional judgment in
1997, " id. at 336-37, and because the
Westerman defendants had "introduced no evidence of
their deliberative process in reaching the decision not to
file the translation, " id. at 338. The court
remanded count one for trial. As to count two, the court
declined to review my determination that plaintiffs had
withdrawn this count. Instead, responding to arguments
plaintiffs raised for the first time on appeal, the court
reasoned that "[b]ecause the district court found that
the claims were brought within the statute of limitations, it
had no occasion to consider whether the second count alleges
damages stemming from appellants' failure to pursue their
malpractice claims sooner due to the defendants'
erroneous advice about the significance of the Federal
Circuit appeal (and, if it does, whether Seed waived those
damages as well)" and "remand[ed] to the district
court to interpret the complaint in the first instance."
Id. at 339. Finally, consistent with its
determination that counts one and two were untimely as to the
Kratz defendants, the Court of Appeals reinstated contingent
counts three and four against the Kratz defendants and
remanded them "for the district court to adjudicate ...
in the first instance." Id. at 335.
remand, the Westerman defendants moved for judgment on the
pleadings as to count two. The Kratz defendants moved for
summary judgment on counts three and four. Plaintiffs opposed
both motions, Pls.' Mem. in Opp'n to Westerman
Defs.' Mot for J. on the Pleadings ("Opp'n to
Westerman") [Dkt. #169]; Pls.' Mem. of P. & A.
in Opp'n to Kratz Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. on Counts
III and IV of the Am. Compl. ("Opp'n to Kratz")
[Dkt. #170], and defendants replied in support of their
motions, Reply in Supp. of Westerman Defs.' Mot. for J.
on the Pleadings as to Count II [Dkt. #172]; Kratz Defs.'
Reply Mem. in Supp. of their Mot. for Summ. J. on Counts III
and IV of the Am. Compl. [Dkt #173]. I took the motions under
advisement shortly thereafter.
Westerman defendants move for judgment on the pleadings.
"[A] party may move for judgment on the pleadings"
"[a]fter the pleadings are closed ... but early enough
not to delay trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The motion
shall be granted "if the moving party demonstrates that
no material fact is in dispute and that it is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Schuler v.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, 514 F.3d 1365, 1370 (D.C.
Cir. 2008) (quoting Peters v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger
Corp., 966 F.2d 1483, 1485 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). In ruling
on the motion, the court must "tak[e] the
complaint's factual allegations as true." Mpoy
v. Rhee, 758 F.3d 285, 287 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (citing
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)).
"[A]ny ambiguities or doubts concerning the sufficiency
of the claim must be resolved in favor of the pleader, "
Schuler, 514 F.3d at 1370 (quoting Doe v.
DOJ, 753 F.2d 1092, 1102 (D.C. Cir. 1985)) (emphasis
deleted), and the court should "accord the benefit of
all reasonable inferences to the non-moving party, "
Jones v. Law Office of David Sean Dufek, 77
F.Supp.3d 134, 137 (D.D.C. 2015), aff'd, 830
F.3d 523 (D.C. Cir. 2016), cert, denied, 137 S.Ct.
Kratz defendants move for summary judgment. Summary judgment
is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). "A fact is material if it 'might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law, ' and a
dispute about a material fact is genuine 'if the evidence
is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.'" Steele v. Schafer, 535
F.3d 689, 692 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "In
making that determination, the court 'must view the
evidence in the light most favorable to [the nonmoving
party], draw all reasonable inferences in [their] favor, and
eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the
evidence.'" Calhoun v. Johnson, 632 F.3d
1259, 1261 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Lathram v.
Snow, 336 F.3d 1085, 1088 (D.C. Cir. 2003)).
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings as to Count Two
Court of Appeals remanded the second count so that this Court
could "interpret the complaint in the first instance and
decide whether Seed waived any remaining claims."
Seed II, 832 F.3d at 339. "[I]f the allegations
in the complaint cover such a claim and Seed did not concede
it, Seed could seek damages based on the Westerman
defendants' faulty advice about the timing of its (now
dismissed) claims against the Kratz defendants."
first question I must answer is "whether the second
count [of the amended complaint] alleges damages stemming
from [plaintiffs'] failure to pursue their malpractice
claims sooner due to the defendants' erroneous advice
about the significance of the Federal Circuit appeal."
Id. The Westerman defendants contend that our
Circuit' opinion answers this question in the negative.
See Mem. in Supp. of Westerman Defs.' Mot for J.
on the Pleadings as to Count II 10-12 [Dkt. #161-1]. But that
is plainly ...