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Buyers Products Co. v. Curt Manufacturing, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

April 26, 2017

BUYERS PRODUCTS COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
CURT MANUFACTURING LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY District Judge

         Plaintiff Buyers Products Company brings suit alleging that certain of defendant CURT Manufacturing's products infringe its U.S. Patent No. 6, 139, 043 (“'043 patent”). (Dkt #1.) In response, CURT moves to dismiss Buyers' complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Dkt. #8.) Specifically, CURT argues that each claim of the '043 patent requires a “neck having an upper and lower strengthening member and intermediate connecting portion, ” while defendant's accused products have no literal or equivalent “neck” structures or “upper strengthening members.” (Def.'s Opening Br. (dkt. #9) 1.) Whatever merit there may be in this argument, CURT has chosen the wrong vehicle to bring it. Indeed, defendant's motion to dismiss both: (1) depends on documents not incorporated by reference in Buyers' complaint and (2) would require claim construction without discovery or expert testimony. Since either defect is fatal to the motion, the court will deny it without prejudice to defendant raising the same arguments in a motion for claims construction and summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         The '043 patent, entitled “One-Piece Pintle Hitch, ” was issued to Thomas A. Gries and Mark J. Saltzman on October 31, 2000, then subsequently assigned to plaintiff Buyers. (Compl. (dkt. #1) ¶ 7.) The invention described by the '043 patent details “a one-piece pintle hitch utilizing an integral drawbar that may be engaged with a conventional receiver assembly such as installed along the underside of a vehicle.” (Id. at ¶ 8.) Defendant CURT manufactures and sells competing pintle hitch assemblies, including model numbers 48004, 48005, 48006, 48007 and other similar devices (hereinafter “the Accused Products”). (Id. at ¶ 3.)

         The patent contains twenty claims, but the complaint expressly calls out claim nine, which reads as follows:

9. A pintle hitch comprising:
a longitudinal bar member having a non-cylindrical configuration and further having a distal end, a proximal end, a first side extending between said distal end and said proximal end, and a second side opposite from said first side and also extending between said distal end and said proximal end; and
a pintle hook and latch assembly disposed at said distal end of said bar member, said pintle hook being integral with and nonseparable from said distal end of said bar member by a neck having an upper and lower strengthening member and intermediate connecting portion, said latch being pivotally movable with respect to said pintle hook;
wherein said bar defines a first narrowed region along said first side of said bar and a second narrowed region along said second side of said bar, thereby imparting a non-circular cross section to said bar along said first and second narrowed regions, and said proximal end of said bar is adapted to engage a receiver assembly.

(Pl.'s Ex. 1 ('043 Patent) (dkt. #1-1) 16.)

         Buyers asserts that “[CURT] has been, and is infringing, and/or is inducing others to infringe, and/or is contributing to the infringement of others of, claims of the '043 patent including but not limited to claim 9 thereof, by manufacturing, using, selling and offering for sale the Accused Products, and or by causing others to do so with knowledge of the '043 patent and knowledge of the actions of others infringe claims of the '043 patent.” (Id. at ¶ 13.) In its motion to dismiss, CURT contends that its Accused Products cannot infringe because they do not contain a “neck” having an “upper strengthening member” above an “intermediate connecting portion” as described in claim 9 of the '043 patent. (Def.'s Opening Br. (dkt. #9) 1.) As such, CURT argues that Buyers' Complaint must be dismissed for failing to state a claim for patent infringement. Buyers objects to CURT's motion as procedurally inappropriate, insufficiently supported, and legally in error.

         OPINION

         Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 requires that the plaintiff make a “short a plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must allege “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In effect, this means that the complaint must indicate “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged” and “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. When “[e]valuating the sufficiency of the complaint, [the court] construes it in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, accept[s] well-[pled] facts as true, and draw[s] all inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor.” Cincinnati Life Ins. Co. v. Beyrer, 722 F.3d. 939, 946 (7th Cir. 2013).

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is designed to test the complaint's legal sufficiency. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Dismissal is only warranted if no recourse could be granted under any set of facts consistent with the allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 662. But, as this court has held, the motion to dismiss phase of the proceedings “is not an opportunity for the court to find facts or weigh evidence.” My Health, Inc. v. Gen. Elec. Co., No. 15-CV-80-JDP, 2015 WL 9474293, at *2 (W.D. Wis. Dec. 28, 2015). Despite this, CURT attempts effectively to transform its motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment by ...


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