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Ringers Technologies LLC v. Harmer

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

June 12, 2019

RINGERS TECHNOLOGIES LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
GEORGE HARMER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANCY F. ATLAS SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This patent inventorship case is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. # 30] filed by Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant Ringers Technologies LLC (“Ringers”), seeking dismissal of Counts XVI and XVIII of Defendant/Counterclaim Plaintiff George Harmer's Second Amended Counterclaims. Harmer filed a Response [Doc. # 33], and Ringers filed a Reply [Doc. # 34]. Having reviewed the record and applicable legal authorities, the Court denies the Motion to Dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Harmer is a safety manager for an oil well servicing company. He alleges that he is “experienced and knowledgeable with respect to hazards and safety considerations relevant to the protection of and injury avoidance to the hands of individuals working in the oil field.” See Second Amended Counterclaims (“Counterclaim”) [Doc. # 19], ¶ 8.

         Harmer alleges that in 2013 he developed a new glove design that reduced the risk of hand injury. See id., ¶ 9. Harmer alleges that in May 2014, he met with Ringers' National Accounts Manager regarding Harmer's new glove. See id., ¶ 11. Harmer alleges that Ringers subsequently represented to third parties that it was working with Harmer to develop a new glove. See id., ¶ 12.

         Harmer alleges that, later in May 2014, Jim Bailey, the President of Ringers, corresponded with Harmer expressing an interest in Harmer's glove design. See id., ¶ 13. Harmer and Ringers executed a Non-Disclosure Agreement (“NDA”) on July 2, 2014. Thereafter, Harmer and Hardy Lim, Ringers' Research and Development Director, corresponded regarding Harmer's glove design. See id., ¶ 15.

         Harmer alleges that on August 8, 2014, Lim offered to fly Harmer to Texas for an in-person meeting regarding Harmer's glove design, and asked Harmer to bring “all documentations, drawings, prototypes, etc.” that were relevant to the glove design so they could “review and discuss everything in detail.” See id., ¶ 16. Harmer traveled to Texas and met with Lim for several hours on August 21, 2014. See id., ¶ 17. Harmer alleges that during the meeting, he “contributed his glove design knowledge, research, and ideas to help develop a redesigned glove for Ringers.” Id., ¶ 18. Harmer alleges that Bailey “informed Harmer that Ringers would compensate Harmer if Ringers went forward with Harmer's glove design contributions provided during the development meeting between Harmer and Lim.” Id., ¶ 19.

         In September 2014, Lim informed Harmer that Ringers would not pursue the glove design developed during the August 2014 meeting between Lim and Harmer. See id., ¶ 20.

         Harmer alleges that in early 2018, however, he “discovered that Ringers had released a new, modified glove design: the 075 R-Chem Impact glove” that includes one or more of the ideas that Harmer provided to Ringers during the August 2014 meeting. See id., ¶¶ 21-22. Harmer later discovered that Ringers had applied for and obtained patents, listing Lim as the sole inventor, for gloves that Harmer alleges are based on the ideas he provided to Ringers. See id., ¶ 25, ¶ 27.

         Harmer asserts an inequitable conduct counterclaim (Claim XVI) based on Ringers failing to identify Harmer as an inventor on the patent applications. Harmer also asserts a fraud counterclaim (Claim XVIII) based on Ringers misrepresenting its interest in working with Harmer in order to induce Harmer to disclose to Ringers his knowledge, research, and ideas in connection with the new glove design. Ringers has moved to dismiss these two counterclaims. The Motion to Dismiss has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision.

         II. STANDARD FOR MOTION TO DISMISS

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is viewed with disfavor and is rarely granted. See Turner v. Pleasant, 663 F.3d 770, 775 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Harrington v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 563 F.3d 141, 147 (5th Cir. 2009)). The complaint must be liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff, and all facts pleaded in the complaint must be taken as true. See Harrington, 563 F.3d at 147. The complaint must, however, contain sufficient factual allegations, as opposed to legal conclusions, to state a claim for relief that is “plausible on its face.” See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Patrick v. Wal-Mart, Inc., 681 F.3d 614, 617 (5th Cir. 2012). When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should presume they are true, even if doubtful, and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Rule 8 “generally requires only a plausible ‘short and plain' statement of the plaintiff's claim, not an exposition of his legal argument.” Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 530 (2011).

         “In alleging fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b); see Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168-69 (1993); Hart v. Bayer Corp., 199 F.3d 239, 247 n.6 (5th Cir. 2000). To satisfy the particularity requirement of Rule 9(b), a plaintiff must “identify the time, place, and contents of the false representations, as well as the identity of the person making the misrepresentation and what that person obtained thereby.” Employees' Ret. Sys. v. Whole Foods Mkt., Inc., 905 F.3d 892, 899 (5th Cir. 2018) (internal quotations and citation omitted). Although fraud must be alleged with particularity, it “may be pleaded without long or highly detailed particularity.” Guidry v. United States Tobacco Co., 188 F.3d 619, 632 (5th Cir. 1999); Khan v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 2014 WL 200492, *7 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 17, 2014).

         III. ...


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