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Webasto Thermo & Comfort North America, Inc. v. Bestop, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 25, 2019

WEBASTO THERMO & COMFORT NORTH AMERICA, INC. and WEBASTO-EDSCHA CABRIO USA, INC., Plaintiffs/Counter-Defendants,
v.
BESTOP, INC., Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff.

          R. Steven Whalen, United States Magistrate Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' SECOND MOTION IN LIMINE TO PRECLUDE BESTOP'S LAY WITNESSES FROM PROVIDING OPINION TESTIMONY REGARDING VALIDITY OF THE PATENT-IN-SUIT (ECF NO. 216)

          PAUL D. BORMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action involves Plaintiffs Webasto Thermo & Comfort North America, Inc. and Webasto-Edscha Cabrio USA, Inc.'s (collectively “Webasto”) claim that Defendant Bestop, Inc. (“BesTop”) infringes Webasto's U.S. Patent No. 9, 346, 342 (“the '342 Patent”), entitled “Vehicle Roof and Roof Opening Mechanism.” Webasto claims that BesTop's Accused Product, the Sunrider for Hardtop (“the Sunrider”), infringes Webasto's ‘342 patent as embodied in Webasto's Black Forest ThrowBack top (“ThrowBack”). BesTop responds that the Sunrider does not infringe and that the claims of the '342 Patent were disclosed in prior art and are therefore unpatentable. The Court has issued claim construction, summary judgment, and Daubert[1] rulings and the Plaintiffs have filed in limine motions. Now before the Court is Plaintiffs' Second Motion In Limine to Preclude BesTop From Providing Opinion Testimony Regarding Validity of the Patent-In-Suit. (ECF No. 216.) The matter has been fully briefed and the Court deems oral argument unnecessary for resolving the motion. See E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The background facts of this litigation are set forth in multiple prior Orders of this Court and the reader's knowledge of those facts is presumed. Particular facts, as specifically relevant to the issues in this motion, will be discussed where appropriate.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “The Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Criminal and Civil Procedure and interpretive rulings of the Supreme Court and this court all encourage, and in some cases require, parties and the court to utilize extensive pretrial procedures - including motions in limine - in order to narrow the issues remaining for trial and to minimize disruptions at trial.” United States v. Brawner, 173 F.3d 966, 970 (6th Cir. 1999). District courts have broad discretion over matters involving the admissibility of evidence at trial. United States v. Seago, 930 F.2d 482, 494 (6th Cir. 1991).

         III. ANALYSIS

         It is not clear that there is much to resolve with respect to this motion as BesTop responds that it understands that “BesTop's witnesses cannot offer opinion testimony, and so they will not.” (ECF No. 221, Def.'s Resp. 4, PgID 7759.) BesTop maintains, however, that its lay witnesses are permitted to offer factual testimony and they intend to do so. BesTop asserts that this is permissible under Fed.R.Evid. 602, which BesTop asserts “permits BesTop's witnesses to testify about their personal involvement in the development and marketing of the alleged infringing device.” (Def.'s Resp. 2, PgID 7757.) BesTop directs the Court to Laser Design Int'l, LLC v. BJ Crystal, Inc., No. 03-1179, 2007 WL 735763, at *3 (N.D. Cal. March 7, 2007), for the proposition that a witness can testify as to what he or she personally “did” with respect to these topics. (Id.) Although this is not a misstatement of Laser Design, it is a partial representation of what the case actually says on this subject, which is as follows:

While lay witnesses may be allowed to testify as to their personal knowledge of a particular invention or prior art, they may not “provide specialized explanations or interpretations that an untrained layman could not make if perceiving the same acts or events.” Fresenius Med. Care Holdings, Inc. v. Baxter Inter., Inc., 2006 WL 1330002, *3 (N.D.Cal. May 15, 2006) (quoting U.S. v. Conn., 297 F.3d 548, 554 (7th Cir.2002)).

2007 WL 735763, at *3. The court in Laser Design concluded that witness Rhodes intended only to describe how images were produced and did not intend to “provide any specialized explanations or interpretations of the images.” Id. An examination of the Fresenius case on which Laser Design relies, further clarifies the distinction between permissible and impermissible lay opinion testimony under Rule 701:

Having reviewed the Griewski Declaration in its entirety, the Court finds that some of the statements contained in the Declaration exceed the scope of lay testimony and should be stricken. While Fresenius is correct that courts regularly allow lay witnesses, such as Mr. Griewski, to testify with regard to their personal knowledge of a particular invention or piece of prior art, see, e.g., Corning, Inc. v. SRU Biosystems, 2005 WL 2465900, *7-8 (D.Del.2005), the mandate of Rule 701 is clear. Lay opinion testimony is “not to provide specialized explanations or interpretations that an untrained layman could not make if perceiving the same acts or events.” U.S. v. Conn, 297 F.3d 548, 554 (7th Cir.2002). As stated by the district court in Gart v.. Logitech, Inc., 254 F.Supp.2d 1119, 1123 (C.D. Cal.2003), when “declarants compare [prior art] to the [ ] Patent, they provide testimony that . . . require[s] specialized knowledge.” Id. “This they are not permitted to do as laypersons.” Id.
As such, Mr. Griewski's testimony concerning the Sarns 9000-to the extent that it is premised on his personal knowledge regarding the machine and the way that it operates-is admissible. However, Mr. Griewski may not offer opinion testimony comparing the Sarns 9000 to the 13 1 Patent.

Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc. v. Baxter Intern., Inc., No. 03-1431, 2006 WL 1330002, at *3 (N.D. Cal. ...


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