Judge Leonard Stark recently granted a patent infringement defendant’s motion for sanctions for violations of the Court’s scheduling order. Due to the specific facts of the case, however, Judge Stark denied the requested relief of dismissal of the case. Instead, he ordered the plaintiff to pay defendant’s costs in bringing the motion for sanctions and struck the plaintiff’s request for prejudgment interest. See St. Clair Intellectual Prop. Consultants, Inc. v. Motorola Mobility LLC, C.A. No. 11-1305-LPS, Memorandum Opinion at 1 (D. Del. Mar. 29, 2013).
The parties’ dispute stemmed from a motion to stay filed by plaintiff St. Clair during the claim construction process. After filing its motion to stay but before the Court granted that motion, St. Clair failed to provide infringement contentions and failed to file an opening claim construction brief on the dates required for each by the Court’s scheduling order. Defendant Motorola continued to comply with scheduling order deadlines while the motion to stay was pending and brought a motion for sanctions for St. Clair’s omissions, seeking an order dismissing the case or prohibiting St. Clair from supporting its claims of infringement. Id. at 1-2.
Judge Stark considered the factors set forth by the Third Circuit in Poulis v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 747 F.2d 863, 868 (3d Cir. 1984) for determining whether dismissal of a case is an appropriate sanction. Ultimately, he found that the balance of these factors—the extent of the party’s personal responsibility, prejudice to the adversary caused by failure to meet the scheduling order, history of dilatoriness, willfulness or bad faith, effectiveness of sanctions other than dismissal, and meritoriousness of the claim or defense—favored the imposition of sanctions. Id. at 3-8. “By relying on its motion to stay as a purported basis not to participate in litigation St. Clair chose to initiate—and in which it remained subject to a Scheduling Order—St. Clair essentially engaged in improper self-help, acting as if it had already obtained the relief it had at that point merely requested of the Court.” Id. at 6. Nevertheless, Judge Stark found that “less extreme sanctions” than dismissal were warranted, concluding “that imposing fees and costs incurred in bringing this motion for sanctions and striking St. Clair’s requests for prejudgment interest are appropriate sanctions . . . [because] [n]o party may unilaterally rewrite the Court’s Scheduling Order.” Id. at 3-8. Judge Stark also found that “Plaintiff’s citation to Local Rule 16.4 is unavailing [because] [t]hat rule requires the filing of a request for extension of deadlines prior to the expiration of the deadline.” Id. at 6 n.3.
In the process, Judge Stark noted that there was no “valid excuse for not talking and trying to resolve disputes” between the parties related to the joint claim chart, the motion to stay, and the motion for sanctions. “While [the motion for sanctions] is arguably dispositive because the relief sought includes dismissal, it would have been far preferable [for the parties] to have met and conferred. . . . The Court is unconvinced that the parties could not have worked out their conflicts over how the other side was proceeding if only they had made more of an effort to communicate.” Id. at 5-6, 6 n.2.