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British Telecommunications PLC v. Iac/Interactivecorp

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 22, 2019

BRITISH TELECOMMUNICATIONS PLC, Plaintiff,
v.
IAC/INTERACTIVECORP, MATCH GROUP, INC., MATCH GROUP, LLC, and VIMEO, INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM C. BRYSON UNITED STATES CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Entry of Final and Appealable Judgment as to Count II, Dkt. No. 71. In the motion, plaintiff British Telecommunications PLC (“British Telecom”) moves the Court to direct entry of a final judgment as to Count II of the First Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In the alternative, British Telecom moves the Court to sever Count II under Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and to enter final judgment on that claim so that British Telecom can take an immediate appeal from the Court's disposition of that claim. The defendants oppose the motion.

         1. British Telecom's First Amended Complaint contains three counts against defendants Vimeo, Inc., and IAC/InterActiveCorp. Those are Counts I, III, and V. It also contains three counts against defendants Match Group, Inc., Match Group, LLC, and IAC/InterActiveCorp. Those are Counts II, IV, and VI. Each of the six counts is based on a separate patent.

         In response to the defendants' motion to dismiss all claims in the First Amended Complaint, this Court granted the motion as to Counts I, II, III, and VI, but denied the motion as to Counts IV and V. Dkt. No. 61. This Court subsequently severed Counts I, III, and V from Counts II, IV, and VI for purposes of trial, and will proceed with separate trials on the counts remaining after the dismissals, i.e., Count IV against defendants Match Group, Inc., Match Group, LLC, and IAC/InterActiveCorp., and Count V against defendants Vimeo, Inc., and IAC/InterActiveCorp.

         Following the Court's order on the defendants' motion to dismiss, British Telecom filed the present motion seeking to appeal from the Court's dismissal of Count II of the First Amended Complaint. British Telecom argues that it would be in the interest of justice for the Court to permit an immediate appeal from the dismissal of Count II by entering a final judgment as to that count under Rule 54(b). In the alternative, British Telecom argues that the Court should sever Count II from the remaining counts and enter a final judgment of dismissal on that count, giving British Telecom the opportunity to take an immediate appeal from the dismissal of Count II. British Telecom represents that if the Court follows either of those courses, it will agree to a final dismissal with prejudice of the other three dismissed counts-Counts I, III, and VI-and will forgo its right to any appeal of those other three counts, “both now and in the future.” Dkt. No. 72, at 2, 4.

         2. There is a strong policy in the federal court system against piecemeal appeals; the requirement that there be a final judgment disposing of all the claims in a case before an appeal is taken is very much the rule, to which there are only narrowly circumscribed exceptions. See Microsoft Corp. v. Baker, 137 S.Ct. 1702, 1712 (2017); Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Risjord, 449 U.S. 368, 374 (1981). One of those exceptions is embodied in Rule 54(b), which provides that “when an action presents more than one claim for relief, ” or when multiple parties are involved, “the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties, ” but that it may do so “only if the court expressly determines that there is no just reason for delay.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b).

         In a patent case, the question whether an order entered by a district court under Rule 54(b) is sufficient to confer appellate jurisdiction on the court of appeals is a question of Federal Circuit law. iLor, LLC v. Google, Inc., 550 F.3d 1067, 1072 (Fed. Cir. 2008); Storage Tech. Corp. v. Cisco Sys., Inc., 329 F.3d 823, 830 (Fed. Cir. 2003). The Federal Circuit has explained that a bare recitation that there is “no just reason for delay” is not sufficient, by itself, to properly certify an issue for immediate appeal. iLor, 550 F.3d at 1072. The rule calls for the district court's exercise of its discretion, “and if that exercise is to be subject to meaningful appellate review, the court of appeals must be informed of the basis for the court's certification of the judgment.” Id. (quoting 10 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 54.23[2] (3d ed. 2008)). The Court will therefore undertake to explain the basis for its ruling on the instant motion.

         As the Supreme Court has explained, the decision to certify a final decision for appeal under Rule 54(b) requires the district court to make two findings: (1) that there has been a final judgment on the merits with respect to the claim at issue; and (2) that there is “no just reason for delay.” Curtiss-Wright Corp. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 446 U.S. 1, 7-8 (1980). The latter inquiry requires the district court to take into account “judicial administrative interests as well as the equities involved.” Id. at 8. The question whether there has been a final judgment on the merits with regard to the claim at issue is a legal issue; the question whether there is “no just reason for delay” entails an exercise of discretion by the district court. Id. at 10; see also Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Mackey, 351 U.S. 427, 437 (1956).

         There is no question that the Court's ruling dismissing Count II is a final judgment on the merits. The Court held the asserted claims of the sole patent identified in that count to be directed to ineligible subject matter under 35 U.S.C. § 101, and it therefore dismissed the infringement claim raised in that count. The more difficult question is whether the “no just reason for delay” standard has been satisfied.

         The parties dispute whether this case is an appropriate one in which to allow an immediate appeal under the certification procedure set forth in Rule 54(b). British Telecom argues that an immediate appeal is justified because the issue presented in Count II is unrelated to any issue presented in the remaining undismissed counts-Counts IV and V-and thus no issue relating to Count II will be affected by any developments in the pretrial or trial proceedings regarding Counts IV and V. In addition, British Telecom argues, because of the differences between the claims at issue, it is unlikely that the Federal Circuit would have to deal with any issues relating to either set of claims more than once. Nor, according to British Telecom, do the remaining claims raise any issue that could result in a set-off against a judgment that might be entered under Counts IV or V. The defendants respond that allowing an immediate appeal would disserve the interests of judicial economy because it would require an additional proceeding before the court of appeals, instead of limiting the number of appeals to potentially a single appeal following the entry of final judgment as to all the claims. They also contend that allowing an immediate appeal of Count II would be inequitable, as it would require them to respond to an appeal at the same time they are preparing for trials on the unappealed counts.

         As the defendants point out, certification of a claim for immediate appeal under Rule 54(b) is intended to serve as a limited exception to the final judgment rule. See, e.g., Elliott v. Archdiocese of N.Y., 682 F.3d 213, 220 (3d Cir. 2012) (“Certification of a judgment as final under Rule 54(b) is the exception, not the rule, to the usual course of proceedings in a district court.”); Taco John's of Huron, Inc. v. Bix Produce Co., 569 F.3d 401, 402 (8th Cir. 2009) (“Our cases are uniform in holding that we will not assume jurisdiction over a case certified to us under rule 54(b) as a routine matter or as an accommodation to counsel and that we will not do so unless there is some danger or hardship or injustice which an immediate appeal would alleviate.”); Corrosioneering, Inc. v. Thyssen Envtl. Sys., Inc., 807 F.2d 1279, 1282 (6th Cir. 1986) (“Rule 54(b) is not to be used routinely . . . or as a courtesy or accommodation to counsel.”); Morrison-Knudsen Co. v. Archer, 655 F.2d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1981) (Kennedy, J.) (“Judgments under Rule 54(b) must be reserved for the unusual case in which the costs and risks of multiplying the number of proceedings and overcrowding the appellate docket are outbalanced by pressing needs of the litigants for an early and separate judgment as to some claims or parties.”).

         In Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Philadelphia Elec. Co., 521 F.2d 360 (3d Cir. 1975), a frequently cited Third Circuit case, the court set forth a number of factors that a district court should consider in determining whether to issue a Rule 54(b) certification. The court's nonexclusive list of factors for district courts to consider in determining whether to issue a Rule 54(b) certification is as follows:

(1) the relationship between the adjudicated and unadjudicated claims; (2) the possibility that the need for review might or might not be mooted by future developments in the district court; (3) the possibility that the reviewing court might be obliged to consider the same issue a second time; (4) the presence or absence of a claim or counterclaim which could result in set-off against the judgment sought to be made final; (5) miscellaneous factors such as delay, ...

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