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FIELDTURF INTERNATIONAL v. TRIEXE MANAGEMENT GROUP

April 14, 2004.

FIELDTURF INTERNATIONAL, INC., and FIELDTURF. INC. Plaintiff's,
v.
TRIEXE MANAGEMENT GROUP INC., SPORTEXE CONSTRUCTION SERVICES, INC., SPORTEXE INTERNATIONAL, INC., and SPORTEXE, INC. Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: NAN NOLAN, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This patent infringement action is before the Court on plaintiff's' motion to compel. For the reasons explained below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

  Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are taken from plaintiff's' Stipulated Third Amended Complaint and the parties' Initial Joint Status Report, Plaintiff Fieldturf International, Inc. is a Florida corporation which manufacturers, sells, and installs synthetic turf products in the United States, Plaintiff Fieldturf, Inc. is a Canadian corporation which designs synthetic turf products and distributes these products worldwide. Fieldturf, Inc. is the owner, by assignment, of U.S. Patent No. 6,338,885 (the "`885 patent") entitled "Synthetic Turf which discloses and claims a synthetic grass sports surface for use in connection with, among other things, sporting activities such as soccer and football. Fieldturf, Inc. is also the owner, by assignment, of U.S. Patent No. 6,551,689 B1 (the'"689 patent") entitled "Synthetic Grass with Resilient Granular Top Surface Layer." FieldTurf International, Inc. is the exclusive licensee from FieldTurf Inc. under the `885 and `689 patents for the right to manufacture, sell, offer to sell and install synthetic turf products in the United States. Defendants Triexe Management Group, Inc. ("Triexe"), Sportexe Construction Services, Inc. ("Sportexe Construction"), and Sportexe, Inc. supply and install artificial turf systems. Defendants' Answer states that defendant Sportexe International was dissolved on or about October 17, 2003.

  Plaintiff's assert claims against defendants for infringement of the `885 patent and the `689 patent, for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and for common law conversion arising from the sale or offer to sell by defendants of synthetic turf products to the University of Wisconsin, the University of California at Berkeley, the Baltimore Ravens, and a fourth project in Ireland. Defendants have denied the material allegations of the Third Amended Complaint and three of the four defendants have asserted counterclaims, The counterclaims seek, among other things, a declaratory judgment on non-infringement as to the "885 patent and `689 patent as well as U.S. Patent No. 5,958,527 (the "`527 patent") en titled "Process for Laying Synthetic Grass." Defendants have additionally asserted counterclaims for alleged violations of § 43(a) of the Lanham Act and 15 U.S.C. § 2, tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with pre-contractual relations, and common law unfair competition based on plaintiff's' alleged misrepresentations to defendants' customers and prospective customers,
DISCUSSION
  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) prescribes the scope of matters upon which a party may seek discovery. "Parties may obtain discovery regarding any mailer, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party . . . Relevant information need not be admissible at trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed.R. Civ. P. 26 (b)(1). Trial courts have broad discretion in resolving matters relating to discovery, Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 681 (7th Cir. 2002). The discovery requests at issue in plaintiff's' motion to compel seek information relating to: (1) defendants' financial status and (2) the relationship between the corporate defendants. The Court discusses each of these categories in turn.

 A. Defendants' Financial Status

  Plaintiff's' First Set of Document Requests seek, among other things, the following documents that refer or relate to defendants' financial status for the period six months prior to incorporation to the present: (1) shares issued by defendants (Request No. 2); (2) current assets and/or liabilities (Request No. 3); (3) director and officer compensation (Request Nos. 8 & 9); (4) stockholder dividends issued by defendants (Request No. 10); (5) tax and tax-related filings (Request No. 14); (6) bank accounts and/or bank account statements (Request No. 15); (7) payment of debts and/or liabilities (Request No. 16); (8) indemnifications given by defendants to any other defendant or any third party (Request Nos. 17 & 18); (9) transfer of assets between defendants (Request No. 19); and (10) transfer, loan or other exchange of monies between defendants (Request No. 20). Plaintiff's state that these requests are relevant to the determination of punitive and enhanced damages. Defendants object to these requests as overbroad and unduly burdensome, Defendants argue that no basis exists to demand financial records going back to the birth of defendants because only the defendants' present financial condition may be considered in determining the appropriate measure of punitive or increased damages.

  Plaintiff's' infringement counts seeks enhanced damages, and their state law claim for intentional interference with prospective advantage seeks punitive damages. When punitive damages are sought, a party's financial condition is at issue and discovery on that subject is relevant. Cruce v. Schuchmann, 1993 WL 139222, *1 (D, Ran. March, 30, 1993) (holding "[i]nformation of a party's net worth or financial condition is relevant . . . because it can be considered in determining punitive damages."): Mid Continent Cabinetry. Inc. v. George Koch Sons. Inc., 130 F.R.D. 149, 151 (D. Kan, 1990). "[T]here can be no doubt that net worth is discoverable under Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as it regards a matter `that is relevant to the claim of a party: that is, plaintiff's punitive damages claim." Challenge Aspen v. King World Productions Corp., 2001 WL 1403001, * 3 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 9, 2001) (Schenkier, J.).

  In the present case, defendants' present financial condition is relevant to plaintiff's' claim for punitive damages under federal and state law. Under 35 U.S.C. § 284, damages may be enhanced up to three time the compensatory award. The Federal Circuit has set forth nine factors, including a defendant's size and financial condition, that are to be considered when district courts are making a decision about enhanced damages. Read Corp. v. Portec, Inc., 970 F.2d 816, 926-27 (Fed. Cir. 1992); see also Manildra Milling Com, v. Ogilvie Mills. Inc., 1991 WL17610 (D. Kan. Jan. 31, 1991) (finding that discovery into a party's net worth is relevant to the issue of treble damages under 35 U.S.C. § 284). Moreover, under Illinois law, one of the relevant factors in determining punitive damages is the defendant's financial status. Pickering v. Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp., 638 N.E.2d 1127, 1139 (Ill.App. 1994); Howard v. Zack Co., 637 N.E.2d 1193, 1194 (Ill.App. 1994).*fn1 However, defendants' objection to the broad scope of the plaintiff's' request for financial information is well-taken. Only current financial documents are relevant to a claim for punitive damages, see Audiotext Communications Network. Inc. v. US Telecom. Inc., 1995 WL 625962, * 4 (D. Kan. Oct. 5, 1995) (finding the current information of plaintiff's' net worth or financial condition relevant to the issue of punitive damages); Raiser v. O'Shaughnessy, 1992 WL 309541, * 1 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 21, 1992) (Moran, J.) (holding plaintiff's request for defendants' financial records would "be met by disclosure of the most recent of the types of documents described that substantially discloses the defendant's assets and liabilities,"). Plaintiff's' request for non-current financial information is irrelevant to a punitive damages determination. Audio-text Communications Network, Inc., 1995 WL 625962 at * 4. Plaintiff's' motion to compel is granted with respect to Request Nos. 2, 3, 8-10, and 14-20 to the extent the information sought reveals defendants' current assets and liabilities.

  Defendants also point out that plaintiff's and defendants are direct competitors. Defendants state that plaintiffs are attempting to use this proceeding to obtain financial information for competitive purposes which are not relevant to the claims or defenses in this action. Plaintiff's do not dispute that defendants are competitors, In fact, plaintiff's have stated that the "synthetic turf industry is highly competitive," Plaintiff's' Resp. to Defs' Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, p. 1, The Court recognizes that disclosure of confidential financial information to a competitor may cause a party great harm, Mid Continent Cabinetry, 130 F.R.D. at 152 (stating that "if a plaintiff and defendant were business competitors, disclosure of defendant's financial records to the plaintiff, even with a protective order, could cause the defendant great harm."). However, after balancing the confidentiality concerns of defendants against plaintiff's' need for access to the information, the Court finds that defendants' present financial information is discoverable on an outside counsel "attorneys' eyes only" basis. The Court believes this restriction on the scope of dissemination "strikes a proper balance between plaintiff's' right to discover relevant information and the defendants' confidentiality interests," Challenge Aspen, 2001 WL 1403001 at * 5.*fn2

 B. Relationship Between the Corporate Defendants

  Plaintiff's' discovery requests also seek additional financial records and various corporate documents to support plaintiff's' attempt to pierce the corporate veil of the defendants.*fn3 Plaintiff's assert that defendants are essentially acting as a single corporate entity. According to plaintiff's, questions exist regarding which of the defendants are responsible for the conduct alleged because all of the defendants hold themselves out to the public as a single company, namely Sportexe, and as being able to "handle any aspect of a project, from initial design, to the final supply and installation of equipment." Pls' motion, pp. 5-6. Plaintiff's are concerned that "defendants are attempting to utilize a sham liability shield to allow their various corporate `arms' to freely infringe, while protecting the real assets of the corporation in a parent company, namely Triexe." Pls' Reply, p. 2. Defendants contend that plaintiffs should not be permitted discovery relative to their corporate veil theory because there is no evidence of failing to maintain adequate corporate records, failing to comply with corporate formalities, commingling of assets, undercapitalization, or treating the assets of one corporation as the assets of another.

  Defendants' objection to discovery regarding plaintiff's' corporate veil theory is overruled in part. It is not surprising the factual record has not been fully developed regarding the relationship among the defendants because the very purpose of discovery is to obtain relevant information, Nevertheless, the current record indicates that Sportexe Construction and Sportexe, Inc. are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Triexe. Triexe, Sportexe Construction, and Sportexe, Inc. have the same place of business in Fonthill, Ontario, Canada. Sportexe International also had a place of business in Fonthill, Ontario, Canada. Defendants confirm that each defendant has used the "Sportexe" mark. The Florida Secretary of State's online records regarding Triexe gives a "cross-reference name" of Sportexe Inc. Pls' Motion, Ex, B. Further online records from the Florida Secretary of State's office and the Georgia Secretary of State's office indicate that Triexe, Sportexe Construction, and Sportexe Inc. have common officers. Id., Exs. B, C, D. The website of "Sportexe" (www.sportexe.com) indicates that it has offices in Calhoun, Georgia and Lake Worth, Florida. Id., Ex. E. Plaintiff's state that Sportexe Construction and Sportexe Inc. operate out of the same Calhoun, Georgia and Lake Worth, Florida locations.

  As an initial matter, the Court notes that neither side has analyzed whether state or federal common law governs the veil-piercing inquiry in a patent infringement action. Although this case is founded on federal question jurisdiction, Plaintiff's' Reply seems to assume, without discussion, that Illinois' substantive law applies to the veil piercing issue.*fn4 Defendants' pleadings fail to cite any case law regarding the veil-piercing question. Because the parties have not argued the choice of law question, the Court will not disturb plaintiff's' assumption that Illinois law applies. The Court for purposes of this motion assumes that Illinois law applies without determining whether Illinois law is the proper choice of law. United ...


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