The Facts, Just the Facts

Submitted by patentadmin on Wed, 03/17/2010 - 14:00

It would appear that suing lawyers for malpractice has become so popular that it may become an Olympic event. If it does, we know of one party that is not likely to win the gold. (Rockwood Retaining Walls, Inc. et al. v. Patterson, Thuente, Skaar & Christensen PA)

Patterson, Thuente defended Rockwood in a suit alleging that certain products sold by Rockwood infringed patents owned by a competitor, Anchor Wall. A jury found the patents-in-suit to be valid and infringed and awarded Anchor Wall $24M in damages. The court then issued a permanent injunction barring Rockwood from the future production or sale of the infringing products. Needless to say, Rockwood was unhappy with this outcome and, in the great American tradition, they decided to do what unhappy Americans do – they sued. They sued their attorneys, alleging that the law firm had “departed from the standard of care and negligently represented [Rockwood’s] interests” by, for example, failing “to properly defend against Anchor’s claim of inducement infringement [sic]” and failing to properly conduct discovery, prepare witnesses and introduce evidence regarding damages. Rockwood alleged that, but for these failures, “[Rockwood] would have successfully defended against [Anchor’s suit], or the result of the litigation would have been more favorable to [Rockwood] than it in fact was.” In a transparent grab for sympathy, Rockwood noted, in its complaint, that it had paid $3.9M to Patterson, Thuente and had been compelled to take out a loan to do so.

Rockwood initially brought its suit in state court. Patterson, Thuente had the case transferred to federal court. Rockwood sought to have it returned to state court, while Patterson, Thuente moved to have the case dismissed.

The Court denied Rockwood’s motion, ruling that the alleged malpractice was inextricably intertwined with questions of patent law (which are the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts). The Court then granted Patterson, Thuente’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that “[t]he complaint fails to provide the requisite allegations that would permit defendant to meaningfully evaluate the claims against it … the [complaint] simply alleges negligent legal representation and provides five, non-exclusive ‘examples’ … [which] are not specific instances of alleged malpractice but rather more in the nature of topical categories of such alleged failures …” Perhaps Rockwood will now sue its new attorneys.

THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED: When drafting a complaint, remember the wise words of Sergeant Joe Friday (badge No. 714), “we want the facts, just the facts.”

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