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Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. v. Huang

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

April 25, 2018

HUAWEI TECHNOLOGIES CO., LTD., and FUTUREWEI TECHNOLOGIES, INC.
v.
YIREN RONNIE HUANG, and CNEX LABS, INC.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          AMOS L. MAZZANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are Defendants CNEX Labs, Inc. and Yiren “Ronnie” Huang's Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue and for Failure to State a Claim Under Rule 12(b)(6) (Dkt. #14) (“Initial Motion to Dismiss”), Defendants CNEX Labs, Inc. and Yiren “Ronnie” Huang's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint for Improper Venue and for Failure to State a Claim Under Rule 12(b)(6) (“Motion to Dismiss”) (Dkt. #34), and Defendants CNEX Labs, Inc. and Yiren Ronnie Huang's Motion for Leave to Address Issues Raised at the April 2, 2018 Hearing (“Motion for Leave”) (Dkt. #56). Having considered the motions and the relevant pleadings, the Court finds that Defendants' Initial Motion should be denied as moot, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Defendants' 12(b)(3) argument for improper venue should be denied, Defendants' 12(b)(6) argument for failure to state a claim should be granted in part, and Defendants' Motion for Leave should be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd. (“Huawei”) is a multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company headquartered in China. Plaintiff Futurewei Technologies, Inc. (“Futurewei”) is a subsidiary of Huawei with several offices throughout the United States, including Plano, Texas. In December 2010, Futurewei offered Yiren “Ronnie” Huang (“Huang”) employment as a Principal Engineer for its solid-state drive (“SSD”) storage group, to assist in development and implementation of Advance Computing Network (“ACN”), non-volatile memory express (“NVMe”), and SSD technology. Huang accepted the offer in January 2011. Huang worked in the Santa Clara office and was domiciled in Santa Clara County, California. At the Futurewei new hire orientation, Huang signed an employment contract (the “Employment Agreement”), which contained the following forum-selection clause:

         12. General Provisions.

(a) Governing Law. This Agreement will be governed by and construed according to the laws of the State of Texas without regard to conflicts of law principles.
(b) Exclusive Forum. I hereby irrevocably agree that the exclusive forum for any suit, action, or other proceeding arising out of or in any way related to this Agreement shall be in the state or federal courts in Texas, and I agree to the exclusive personal jurisdiction and venue to any court on Collin County Texas.

(Dkt. #34, Exhibit 1 at pp. 21-22). The Employment Agreement also contained provisions relating to non-disclosure, non-competition, and non-solicitation.

         Based on Huang's job responsibilities, Plaintiffs contend that Huang had access to confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information. On May 31, 2013, Huang ended his employment with Futurewei. On June 3, 2013, Huang, along with others, incorporated CNEX Labs, Inc. (“CNEX”), a Delaware Corporation with its principal place of business in California. Plaintiffs allege, among other things, that Huang incorporated CNEX to compete directly with Plaintiffs, Huang is using Plaintiffs' confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information to develop and improve SSD technology and NVMe related technology for CNEX, and further that Huang and CNEX are improperly soliciting employees away from Plaintiffs. Additionally, Plaintiffs allege that Huang started to engage in this behavior informally prior to leaving Futurewei. Plaintiffs further contend that Huang and CNEX began filing patent applications in June 2013, using the information that Huang obtained through his employment with Futurewei.

         Plaintiffs filed suit in the Eastern District of Texas on December 28, 2017, against Defendants seeking declaratory judgment and alleging a variety of causes of action including breach of contract, disclosure and misappropriation of confidential information and trade secrets, tortious interference with contract and prospective contracts, conspiracy claims, Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 (“RICO”) claims, breach of fiduciary duty, and unfair competition under Lanham Act and Texas common and statuary law (Dkt. #1). On the same date, Defendants filed suit of a similar nature in the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara (Dkt. #34, Exhibit 5 at p. 1).[1]

         In response to this Complaint, Defendants filed their Initial Motion to Dismiss on February 2, 2018 (Dkt. #14). Plaintiffs filed a response (Dkt. #22), but also filed Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (Dkt. #27). In response to the First Amended Complaint, on March 9, 2018, Defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. #34). Plaintiffs filed a response (Dkt. #42), Defendants filed a reply (Dkt. #46), and Plaintiffs filed a sur-reply (Dkt. #50). The Court held a hearing on the Motion to Dismiss on April 2, 2018. After the hearing, Defendants filed a Motion for Leave to Address Issues Raised at the April 2, 2018 Hearing (Dkt. #56). Plaintiffs have not yet filed a response.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(3)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3) allows a party the ability to move the Court to dismiss an action for “improper venue.” The Court “must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and resolve all conflicts in favor of the plaintiff.” Mayfield v. Sallyport Global Holdings, Inc., No. 6:16-CV-459, 2014 WL 978685, at *1 (E.D. Tex. Mar. 5, 2014) (citing Ambraco, Inc. v. Bossclip, B.V., 570 F.3d 233, 237-38 (5th Cir. 2009)). In determining whether venue is proper, “the [C]ourt is permitted to look at evidence in the record beyond those facts alleged in the complaints and its proper attachments.” Ambraco, 570 F.3d at 238. If venue is improper, the Court must dismiss it, “or if it be in the interest of justice, transfer such case to any district or division in which it could have been brought.” 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(3).

         II. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that each claim in a complaint include a “short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Each claim must include enough factual allegations “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion allows a party to move for dismissal of an action when the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts in plaintiff's complaint and view those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Bowlby v. City of Aberdeen, 681 F.3d 215, 219 (5th Cir. 2012). The Court may consider “the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint.” Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010). The Court must then determine whether the complaint states a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. ‘“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the [C]ourt to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the [C]ourt to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (alteration in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).

         In Iqbal, the Supreme Court established a two-step approach for assessing the sufficiency of a complaint in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. First, the Court should identify and disregard conclusory allegations, for they are “not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. Second, the Court “consider[s] the factual allegations in [the complaint] to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 681. “This standard ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary claims or elements.'” Morgan v. Hubert, 335 Fed.Appx. 466, 470 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). This evaluation will “be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing [C]ourt to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         Thus, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”' Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         III. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b)

         Rule 9(b) states, “[i]n alleging fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake. Malice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person's mind may be alleged generally.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b).

         Rule 9(b)'s particularity requirement generally means that the pleader must set forth the “who, what, when, where, and how” of the fraud alleged. United States ex rel. Williams v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., 417 F.3d 450, 453 (5th Cir. 2005). A plaintiff pleading fraud must “specify the statements contended to be fraudulent, identify the speaker, state when and where the statements were made, and explain why the statements were fraudulent.” Herrmann Holdings Ltd. v. Lucent Techs. Inc., 302 F.3d 552, 564-65 (5th Cir. 2002). The goals of Rule 9(b) are to “provide[] defendants with fair notice of the plaintiffs' claims, protect[] defendants from harm to their reputation and goodwill, reduce[] the number of strike suits, and prevent[] plaintiffs from filing baseless claims.” United States ex rel. Grubbs v. Kanneganti, 565 F.3d 180, 190 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Melder v. Morris, 27 F.3d 1097, 1100 (5th Cir. 1994)). Courts are to read Rule 9(b)'s heightened pleading requirement in conjunction with Rule 8(a)'s insistence on simple, concise, and direct allegations. Williams v. WMX Techs., Inc., 112 F.3d 175, 178 (5th Cir. 1997). However, this requirement “does not ‘reflect a subscription to fact pleading.'” Grubbs, 565 F.3d at 186. “Claims alleging violations of the Texas Insurance Code and the DTPA and those asserting fraud, fraudulent inducement, fraudulent concealment, and negligent misrepresentation are subject to the requirements of Rule 9(b).” Frith v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 9 F.Supp.2d 734, 742 (S.D. Tex. 1998); see Berry v. Indianapolis Life Ins. Co., No. 3:08-CV-0248-B, 2010 WL 3422873, at *14 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 26, 2010) (“‘[W]hen the parties have not urged a separate focus on the negligent misrepresentation claims, ' the Fifth Circuit has found negligent misrepresentation claims subject to Rule 9(b) in the same manner as fraud claims.”). Failure to comply with Rule 9(b)'s requirements authorizes the Court to dismiss the pleadings as it would for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). United States ex rel. Williams v. McKesson Corp., No. 3:12-CV-0371-B, 2014 WL 3353247, at *3 (N.D. Tex. July 9, 2014) (citing Lovelace v. Software Spectrum, Inc., 78 F.3d 1015, 1017 (5th Cir. 1996)).

         ANALYSIS

         Defendants ask the Court to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims because the Eastern District of Texas is not the proper venue for the case and because Plaintiffs failed to properly state a claim for which relief can be granted. Plaintiffs assert that venue is proper and that the First Amended Complaint satisfies Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a) and 9(b). The Court addresses each basis for dismissal in turn.

         I. Motion to Dismiss for Improper Venue Pursuant to 12(b)(3)

         Defendants argue that the Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' claims because the Eastern District of Texas is not a proper venue pursuant to the federal venue statutes and the forum-selection clause does not make venue proper. Further, Defendants maintain, that even if the forum-selection clause made venue proper in the Eastern District of Texas, venue is still improper because CNEX is not bound by the agreement and is an indispensable party. The Court first ...


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