Wednesday, June 15, 2016, 5:13 PM
By Kirk Watkins
The latest order in a patent case in the Northern District of Georgia delves into the procedural niceties of federal practice, illustrating both how form continues to have power over substance and how the Court can nevertheless point the parties to a viable, low-cost solution.
The case is Modtruss, Inc. v. Battlefrog LLC, Docket no. 1:16-CV-1317-ELR, decided June 6, 2016, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, assigned to Judge Eleanor L. Ross.
This case involves a complaint by Modtruss, Inc. (“Modtruss”), for willful patent infringement and related claims filed on April 22, 2016, along with a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. Defendant, Battlefrog LLC (“Battlefrog”) filed a motion to dismiss prior to the May 25th hearing date set on the motion.
The motion to dismiss was not ripe at the time of the May 25th hearing and was thus not addressed by the Court. On June 3rd, Modtruss filed a response to the motion to dismiss and the parties jointly asked the Court to stay discovery until the motion to dismiss was decided. Immediately thereafter, on the same day, Modtruss filed its “First Amended Complaint,” which added an additional claim for patent infringement, which almost mirrored an existing claim.
Judge Ross noted that the amended complaint was allowed as a matter of course pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(B), but it effected an abandonment of the original pleading under Pintando v. Miami-Dade Hous. Agency, 501 F.3d 1241, 1243 (11th Cir. 2007). As the original pleading was a nullity, the Court found the motion to dismiss was rendered moot citing several cases including Graham v. Copco, NO. CIV.A. 13-00249-CG-B, 2013 WL 5287613, at *1 (S.D. Ala. July 10, 2013). Judge Ross pointed out that the joint request for a stay of discovery until a moot motion was decided was inconsistent with the record as controlled by existing law.
The abandonment by amendment had the further effect of undermining the motion for TRO and preliminary injunction which had already been argued. Although the amendment sought injunctive relief (and was almost identical to the original complaint), it did not adopt the original motion and no additional motion for injunctive relief was filed.
Recognizing that the procedural effects of the amended filing did not appear consistent with the intent of Modtruss’ filings, the Court directed the parties to provide clarification. Defendant Battlefrog was required to respond to the amended complaint and directed to further file a notice on the docket, either that its motion to dismiss as originally filed applied to the amendment or that a new motion would be filed.
Similary, Plaintiff Modtruss was directed to file a notice explaining whether its original motion for a TRO and preliminary injunction should be treated as unchanged by the amendment or whether Modtruss intended to file a separate motion for TRO and preliminary injunction. Without further notice the Court stated that motion was moot. If Modtruss adopted the original motion, Judge Ross informed the parties that she would treat the briefing as complete.
The Court then granted the requested stay of discovery to allow further clarification from the parties before proceeding with the case.
The ruling illustrates that an apparently innocuous filing can have unintended consequences, if a party does not provide for an exception to the general operation of existing procedural law.