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GN Netcom Inc. v. Plantronics Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 3, 2018

GN NETCOM, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
PLANTRONICS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          HONORABLE LEONARD P. STARK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Court held a six-day jury trial in this antitrust case in October 2017. (See D.I. 553-59) ("Trial Tr.") At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant Plantronics, Inc. ("Plantronics"). (D.I. 534) Plaintiff, GN Netcom, Inc. ("GN") has moved for a new trial based on the Court's handling of issues relating to Plantronics' spoliation of evidence and the Court's decision not to admit evidence of a purportedly negative aspect of Plantronics' relationship with the federal government. (D.I. 545) Plantronics has moved to recover a portion of the attorney's fees it incurred in preparing a defense to GN's state-law claim for tortious interference with prospective business relations. (D.I. 547)

         Having reviewed the parties' briefing (see D.I. 546, 548, 560, 562, 563, 564) on their respective motions, as well as the materials submitted in relation to those motions, and having presided over trial (and the preceding five years of extensive pretrial litigation), [1] IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the parties' motions (D.I. 545, 547) are DENIED.

         GN's New Trial Motion

         Legal Standards

         GN moves for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a), which provides in pertinent part, "The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues - and to any party - as follows:... after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." New trials are commonly granted where "the jury's verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, and a new trial must be granted to prevent a miscarriage of justice, " where newly-discovered evidence exists that would likely alter the outcome of the trial, where "improper conduct by an attorney or the court unfairly influenced the verdict, " or where the jury's verdict was "facially inconsistent." Zarow-Smith v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, 953 F.Supp. 581, 584-85 (D.N.J. 1997).

         The decision to grant or deny a new trial is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. See Allied Chem. Corp. v. Daiflon, Inc., 449 U.S. 33, 36 (1980); Olefins Trading, Inc. v. Han Yang Chem Corp., 9 F.3d 282, 289 (3d Cir. 1993) (reviewing "district court's grant or denial of a new trial motion" under "abuse of discretion" standard). Although the standard for grant of a new trial is less rigorous than the standard for grant of judgment as a matter of law - in that the court need not view the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict winner -ordinarily a new trial should only be granted "where a miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to stand, " the verdict "cries out to be overturned, " or the verdict "shocks [the] conscience." Williamson v. Consol Rail Corp., 926 F.2d 1344, 1352-53 (3d Cir. 1991).

         GN's Contentions

         GN seeks a new trial based on its contention that the Court committed prejudicial errors of law. (See, e.g., D.I. 546 at 9-10) Resolving a new trial motion predicated on such grounds requires a determination of "whether an error was in fact committed" and, if so, "whether that error was so prejudicial that denial of a new trial would be inconsistent with substantial justice." Finch v. Hercules, Inc., 941 F.Supp. 1395, 1414 (D. Del. 1996) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Goodman v. Pa. Turnpike Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 676 (3d Cir. 2002) ("A motion for a new trial should be granted where substantial errors occurred in admission or rejection of evidence.").

         In particular, GN contends the Court erred, and prejudiced GN's substantial rights, in two specific ways: (1) with respect to spoliation, by providing the jury a permissive adverse instruction, rather than a dispositive sanction, and "present[ing] a sanitized version of facts regarding Plantronics' spoliation that vastly ignored how egregious its misconduct was and how detrimental the consequences were on GN's case" (D.I. 546 at 15); and (2) refusing to admit evidence of the General Services Administration's ("GSA") issuance of a Notice of Proposed Debarment to Plantronics, which was based on GSA's review of this Court's opinion imposing sanctions on Plantronics for its spoliation of evidence (id. at 15-19). The Court concludes that GN has failed to show that either of these are errors of law that affected GN's substantial rights.

         Spoliation: Legal Error

         The first purported legal error GN points to is the Court's handling at trial of issues relating to Plantronics' spoliation of evidence. Among other things, GN faults the Court for not entering a dispositive sanction, prohibiting GN from presenting to the jury "core facts" relating to the spoliation, and including and omitting evidence from the "Facts" the Court read to the jury that GN believed should or should not have been before the jury. (See, e.g., D.I. 546 at 10-14)

         The Court does not believe it committed legal error with respect to its handling of spoliation and sanctions. As Plantronics points out,

To say that much ink has been spilled over the issue of spoliation would be an understatement. Even excluding the present briefing, there have been six rounds of briefing related to the issue of spoliation, with more than 200 pages of briefs, more than 1, 700 pages of supporting appendices and declarations, six hearings, and three Opinions and Orders by the Court.

         (D.I. 562 at 3-4) (internal footnotes omitted) Along the way the Court held an evidentiary hearing and heard repeated arguments about spoliation, sanctions, and how to present these issues to the jury. (See, e.g., D.I. 385, 507, 509)

         While the Court will admit that preserving both parties' rights to a fair trial was a challenging endeavor, the Court continues to believe it managed to do so without committing legal error. The Court incorporates by reference all of its prior analysis with respect to spoliation, sanctions, and how these issues were to be handled at trial.

         Spoliation: Prejudice

         In any event, even if the Court had committed legal error, there is no basis to find that any such error substantially prejudiced GN. Bearing in mind the totality of the evidence that was admitted (both with regard to the substantive dispute and the spoliation issue), and comparing that to the relatively limited additional spoliation-related evidence GN contends the jury should have heard, any error in how the Court handled the spoliation issue at trial was harmless. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 61 ("Unless justice requires otherwise, no error in admitting or excluding evidence - or any other error by the court or a party - is ground for granting a new trial... [or] for ...


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