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Tony Colida v. Panasonic Corp. of North America and Panasonic Corp

May 24, 2011

TONY COLIDA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PANASONIC CORP. OF NORTH AMERICA AND PANASONIC CORP., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

CORRECTED MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pro se plaintiff Tony Colida filed this suit against Panasonic Corp. of North America and Panasonic Corp. (collectively Panasonic) for alleged infringement of U.S. Design Patent No. 321,184, for a portable cellular telephone handset. The patent was issued to Colida in 1991. For the reasons stated below, the Court dismisses the case with prejudice as a sanction for Mr. Colida's misconduct.

Background

Along with his complaint, Mr. Colida filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis in which he stated under penalty of perjury that he was unemployed and had last been employed in 1999; his only income consisted of monthly social assistance benefits of a little over $700 per month from the government of Quebec, Canada (where he lives); he had no bank accounts; and he owned no real estate, stocks, bonds, financial instruments, automobiles, or "any other thing of value." See Dkt. No. 3. Relying on these representations, the Court granted Mr. Colida's application.

Panasonic then moved to transfer the case to the District of New Jersey or to dismiss it, arguing that this suit repeated claims that Mr. Colida had pursued in that district in 2005. After considering both sides' submissions, the Court entered and continued the motion but vacated its earlier order granting Mr. Colida's in forma pauperis application. The Court's order stated:

Panasonic has moved the Court to dismiss the case on the ground that it is frivolous or, in the alternative, to transfer it to the District of New Jersey, where Mr. Colida has pursued similar claims against Panasonic.

Under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2), a court "shall dismiss" a case in which it has granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis if the court determines that the allegation of inability to pay is untrue or the action "is frivolous or malicious," fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

In support of its motion to dismiss, Panasonic contends that this suit repeats claims that Mr. Colida pursued against Panasonic in the District of New Jersey in 2005. A judge in that court denied Mr. Colida leave to proceed in forma pauperis. It is not entirely clear what happened in the district court after that -- in other words, whether the court also dismissed Mr. Colida's claims on the merits or instead simply denied him leave to proceed in forma pauperis and, perhaps, dismissed the underlying claims without prejudice. "Although a district judge has discretion to deny leave to proceed in forma pauperis and to dismiss a claim without prejudice, see Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25 (1992), a dismissal with prejudice is proper only when the action is frivolous or malicious. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989)." DeTomaso v. McGinnis, 970 F.2d 211, 213 (7th Cir. 1992). Mr. Colida appears to have attempted to take an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit from the decision of the court in New Jersey, but from what this Court can tell that appeal concerned only the district court's denial of leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Based upon the record before the Court, the Court cannot say that the court in New Jersey dismissed Mr. Colida's suit on the merits. That said, even if all the New Jersey court did was to deny leave to proceed in forma pauperis, that decision is still significant for present purposes. As a different judge in the District of New Jersey concluded when Mr. Colida filed a new suit there and again sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis, "[p]laintiff is not entitled to take a third bite at the apple simply by re-filing the application with a different Judge . . . ." Colida v. Panasonic Corp. of N. Am., No. 09-1316 (JLL), Order of Mar. 31, 2009 at 2. Mr. Colida's remedy for the first New Jersey court's allegedly improper denial of his application to proceed in forma pauperis was reconsideration and/or appeal (both of which he attempted and, evidently, lost), not filing a fresh suit and a fresh i.f.p. application in a different district.

In his response to Panasonic's motion to dismiss, Mr. Colida does not contend that his current suit is any different from the two he filed, or attempted to file, in the District of New Jersey. Rather, he contends that the court in New Jersey "has been prejudice[d] against myself because in view of my poverty situation it denied my right to proceed in forma pauperis and I believe their [sic] is a conspiracy going on with the District Court of New Jersey and [it] has acted in prejudice against myself . . . ." Pl. Resp. at 1. In other words, Mr. Colida is expressly asking for a new opportunity to do what the District of New Jersey ruled he cannot do, that is, proceed with the case in forma pauperis. For the reasons the Court has described, an appeal was the remedy for any error that the District of New Jersey may have committed, not a new application to proceed in forma pauperis filed in a different court with the hope of a different outcome.

For these reasons, the Court vacates its order of June 5, 2009 granting Mr. Colida leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Unless Mr. Colida pays the filing fee in full by September 22, 2009, the Court will dismiss his action without prejudice. The Court enters and continues defendants' motion to dismiss or in the alternative to transfer.

Order of Sept. 8, 2009 (dkt. no. 19).

Mr. Colida did not pay the filing fee, so the Court dismissed the case without prejudice. In May 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed this Court's ruling denying in forma pauperis status. Mr. Colida then paid the district court filing fee and sought reinstatement of the case. In July 2010, the Court granted the motion over Panasonic's opposition but ordered Mr. Colida to show cause why the case should not be dismissed under the doctrine of claim preclusion based on the District of New Jersey's dismissal of his prior suit against Panasonic. See Colida v. Panasonic Corp. of N. Am., No. 09 C 1786, 2010 WL 2891646 (N.D. Ill. July 21, 2010). After considering the parties' submissions, however, the Court declined to dismiss the case, because it appeared that the earlier suit concerned different patents and a different allegedly infringing handset than those involved in this case. See Order of Sept. 20, 2010 (dkt. no. 52).

In December 2010, Panasonic filed a motion for summary judgment on the issue of infringement. It noticed the motion for presentment in early January 2011.

On December 21, 2010, Panasonic's counsel sent a letter to the Court, with a copy to Mr. Colida, to apprise the Court of e-mail correspondence counsel had received that date from Mr. Colida. The Court will discuss the contents of the e-mails momentarily. The next day, the Court entered the following order:

Defense counsel has forwarded to the Court, by letter with a copy to plaintiff, a series of abusive, vulgar, inflammatory, and racist e-mails that plaintiff appears to have sent to defense counsel. Defense counsel is directed to file the letter and attachments in the public record. Plaintiff is ordered to show cause in writing, by no later than 1/3/2011, why the Court should not dismiss the case on the ground that he appears to be abusing the court process via his "interaction" with defense counsel. The Court will not extend this date; if plaintiff's submission is not received by 1/3/2011, the Court will act accordingly. In addition, the Court notes that defendants have noticed for presentment on 1/11/2011 a motion for summary judgment and for sanctions. The Court sets the case for a hearing on the show cause order on 1/11/2011 at 9:30 a.m. and orders plaintiff to appear in person. The Court acknowledges that plaintiff's address is in Canada, but he chose to file suit in this Court. If plaintiff does not appear as ordered, the Court may dismiss the case for want of prosecution and/or as a sanction.

Order of Dec. 22, 2010 (dkt. no. 59).

Mr. Colida filed a flurry of submissions in response to the Court's order. These included multiple submissions in which he sought to appear at the show cause hearing by telephone, claiming that he was in fear that Panasonic's counsel would harm him. The Court will discuss these submissions in more detail momentarily. The Court rejected Mr. Colida's request and directed him to appear in person.

The Court held the initial hearing on the show cause order held on January 25, 2011. Despite the Court's order, Mr. Colida did not appear at the hearing. The Court nonetheless did not dismiss the case at that point but rather ...


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