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Seventh Amendment Requires New Trial Where Court Reduces Damages Based On Alleged Lack of Supporting Evidence


In Minks v. Polaris Industries, Inc. (No. 2007-1490, -1491; October 17, 2008), a Federal Circuit panel vacates the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida and remands for a new trial on damages because the district court improperly reduced plaintiff's damages award without offering plaintiff a new trial and provided an improper jury instruction regarding actual notice of infringement. The Court also affirmed the jury's findings of infringement, willful infringement, and attorneys' fees.

Regarding damages, the Court, relying primarily on Hetzel v. Prince William County, 523 U.S. 208, 211 (1998), states that "the entry of judgment for a lesser amount than that awarded by the jury, without the offer of a new trial, cannot be squared with the Seventh Amendment when the reduction is premised on a finding that the evidence does not support the award." The Court goes on to find that plaintiff presented at least "limited evidence" that the district court "necessarily rejected" when recalculating damages, thereby triggering the Reexamination Clause of the Seventh Amendment, and that plaintiff should have been offered a new trial on the issue of damages. The Federal Circuit also finds that the jury instruction regarding actual notice of infringement was improper, finding that "the court's instruction to the jury should have more clearly articulated that, in the context of this ongoing relationship between the parties, knowledge of a specific infringing device is not a legal prerequisite to such a finding."

Regarding infringement, the Court affirms the district court's denial of defendant's JMOL motion, finding that under the legal standard for infringement of a means plus function claim, "[defendant] has not made any argument that the accused devices [electric governor systems for internal combustion engines] do not perform a function identical to that recited in the claim, to achieve an identical result," and that "substantial evidence supports a finding that the accused devices perform in substantially the same way as the circuit disclosed in [the suit patent]." The Court also rejects the defendant's argument that the instruction to the jury on willful infringement constituted plain error because it did not apply the objective recklessness test set out in In re Seagate Technology, LLC, 174 F.3d 1360 (Fed. Cir. 2007) (en banc). The Court finds that defendant did not satisfy the elements for establishing plain error, in particular that defendant made no argument that there would be a different outcome under the objective recklessness standard, and that error in the jury instruction "was not prejudicial because the jury may very well have arrived at the same result."

Minks v. Polaris Industries, Inc. (No. 2007-1490, -1491; October 17, 2008) [PDF]

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