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Pro Sports Inc. v. West

July 14, 2009

PRO SPORTS INCORPORATED, DOING BUSINESS AS CHAMPION SPORTS PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOSEPH H. WEST DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States District Court Judge

OPINION

Presently before the Court is the motion by Defendant Joseph H. West ("Defendant" or "West"), to dismiss Pro Sports Inc.'s ("Plaintiff" or "Pro Sports") Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2) for lack of personal jurisdiction, or alternatively for improper venue, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3). In its Complaint, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that Plaintiff is not infringing on Defendant's Patent No. 5,530,966 entitled Protective Garment For Baseball Umpires Having An Inner Cushioned Layer And An Outer Layer Of Interconnected Plates ("the '966 Patent"), and a declaration that the '966 Patent is invalid. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies West's Motion to Dismiss, finding personal jurisdiction over West, and that venue in the District of New Jersey is proper.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff is a New Jersey corporation whose principal place of business is located in Marlboro, New Jersey. (Pl. Compl. ¶ 1). Plaintiff manufactures, markets, and distributes recreational and sporting equipment within New Jersey, including umpire chest protectors, identified as model numbers P200, P210, and P220 "the Accused Products". Id. ¶ 9-10. West, the owner of the '966 Patent, is an individual who resides in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Id. ¶ 2, 11. On March 11, 2009, counsel for West forwarded a letter to Plaintiff's office in New Jersey alleging infringement of the '966 Patent. (Pl. Compl. Ex. A). The letter demanded that Plaintiff cease and desist all manufacture and sale of the Accused Products. Id. If Plaintiff failed to comply, West threatened Plaintiff with legal action seeking, among other things, an injunction, damages, profits, and recall and destruction of the Accused Products. Id.

On April 1, 2009, Plaintiff filed the instant action. In an effort to stave off a protracted infringement suit, Plaintiff sought a declaration in this Court that the Accused Products do not infringe on the '966 Patent. Id. at ¶ 19.*fn1 Alternatively, Plaintiff sought a declaratory judgment that the '966 Patent is invalid for failure to comply with Title 35 of the United States Code. Id. at ¶ 41. In its complaint, Plaintiff asks this Court to deem this case "exceptional" within the meaning of 35 U.S.C. § 287, and to award attorney's fees, costs and expenses, and any other relief the Court deems proper. Id. at pp. 7-8.

On May 8, 2009, West filed a Motion to Dismiss, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(2), and alternatively, argued improper venue under 12(b)(3). (Def.'s Motion Dismiss). Subsequently, West filed a Declaration in support of the present motion. (West. Decl.). Plaintiff then filed Opposition, accompanied by a Declaration of Scott E. Charney, on June 1, 2009. (Pl. Opp.; Charney Decl.). In its Opposition, Plaintiff argues there is personal jurisdiction over West, and that venue is appropriate in the District of New Jersey. (Pl. Opp. p. 2, 12).*fn2

In support, Plaintiff cites to West's prior contacts with the District of New Jersey, namely West's significant efforts to enforce his patent rights in this District. On August 22, 2006, West sent a cease and desist letter to Venus Knitting Mills, Inc. ("Venus"), a sporting goods manufacturer based in Murray Hill, New Jersey. (Charney Decl., Ex. A). Similar to the letter sent to Plaintiff, West alleged that Venus was infringing on the '966 Patent, and threatened court proceedings for failure to comply with the terms of the letter. Id. An identical letter was subsequently sent to All American Sports Shop, ("All American"), a sporting goods manufacturer based in Hackensack, New Jersey, also alleging infringement of the '966 Patent.

Id. at Ex. B. When Venus and All American did not acquiesce to West's demands, on November 06, 2006, West filed Civil Action No. 06-05319 in the District of New Jersey against Venus, All American, and Pro-Ref Sportswear ("Pro-Ref"), a company with its principal place of business in Florida, alleging patent infringement and unfair competition. Id. at Ex. C, ¶ 3. On December 12, 2006, the case was settled and dismissed. Id. at Ex. C. Plaintiff argues in his Opposition that this prior contact with New Jersey creates sufficient minimum contacts to render personal jurisdiction over West appropriate. On June 8, 2009, West filed his reply, reiterating his position that, New Jersey does not have personal jurisdiction over him, additional discovery is not warranted, and venue is improper. (Def. Reply). For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Personal Jurisdiction

1. Standard of Review

The present motion before the Court challenges this Court's personal jurisdiction over West. Once challenged, a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction.

General Elec. Co. v. Deutz AG, 270 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2001) (finding the plaintiff must demonstrate "[a] nexus between defendant, the forum, and the litigation."). "However, when the court does not hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff need only establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction and the plaintiff is entitled to have its allegations taken as true and all factual disputes drawn in its favor." Miller Yacht Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir.2004); See also Cateret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 142 n. 1 (3d Cir.1992). "If the contents of the plaintiff's complaint conflict with the defendant's affidavits, the district court must construe all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the papers in the plaintiff's favor." 4 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 3d § 1067.6 (3d ed. 2002).

Whether a court has personal jurisdiction over a defendant requires a determination "whether jurisdiction lies under both the applicable long arm statute and the Due Process Clause of the Federal Constitution." Viam Corp. v. Iowa Export-Import Trading Co. 84 F.3d 424, 429 (Fed. Cir. 1996). The New Jersey long-arm statute establishes New Jersey's jurisdiction reach to be conterminous with that allowed under the U.S. Constitution, subject only to due process of law. Thus, the central inquiry is whether Defendant has "certain minimum contacts with. [New Jersey] such that the maintenance of ...


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