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Caputo v. Sealed Air Corporation

September 30, 1999

GARRY L. CAPUTO, PLAINTIFF
V.
SEALED AIR CORPORATION, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel A. Pisano United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION

Before the Court is defendant's motion for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure against the plaintiff, Garry L. Caputo, and his attorney, David H. E. Bursik. The Court heard oral argument on September 13, 1999. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is denied without prejudice.

Background

This is a motion by defendant for the imposition of sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 11"). It stems from a claim by plaintiff Garry Caputo for infringement of his patent relating to a forming roller used to manufacture air cushioning material--or "bubble wrap," as it is commonly called.

The dispute between these two parties had its beginnings over eight years ago. Sealed Air Corporation ("Sealed Air") is a manufacturer of bubble wrap. Mr. Caputo is the inventor of the forming roller embodied in U.S. Patent 4,579,516 (the "`516 patent") and owner of the patent. On June 4, 1991, Mr. Caputo's attorney, David H.E. Bursik, wrote to Sealed Air Corporation alleging that Sealed Air was infringing on the `516 patent. Counsel for Sealed Air responded to Mr. Bursik on July 9, 1991, and denied that there was any infringement. No legal action was taken at that time, and no basis for plaintiff's allegation was ever set forth.

Seven and a half years later, on January 26, 1999, Mr. Bursik again wrote to Sealed Air on behalf of Mr. Caputo alleging infringement of the `516 patent. A week later, on February 2, 1999, plaintiff filed the complaint in the present action. As set forth in the certifications of Mr. Caputo and Mr. Bursik, the basis for plaintiff's latest allegation of infringement is Mr. Caputo's analysis of the characteristics of various samples of bubble wrap produced by Sealed Air in several different years.

Discussion

Rule 11 states in the relevant part:

By presenting to the court (whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating) a pleading, written motion, or other paper, an attorney or unrepresented party is certifying that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances,--

(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation;

(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions therein are warranted by existing law or by a non-frivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law;

(3) the allegations and other factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and

(4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on a lack of information or belief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11

The purpose of Rule 11 is to deter groundless filings and streamline the administration and procedure of the courts. Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 393 (1990). Under the rule, an attorney has a duty to certify that he or she has conducted a reasonable inquiry and that any filing with the court is "well ...


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