Judge Robinson grants Goodman Global’s motion for new trial based on statements made by Carrier Corporation’s counsel during closing arguments

In Carrier Corporation v. Goodman Global, Inc., C.A. No. 12-930-SLR (D. Del. Feb. 22, 2016), Judge Sue L. Robinson recently considered post-trial motions filed following a jury trial at which the jury returned a verdict for Carrier.  Judge Robinson’s decisions prior to trial on summary judgment, claim construction, and motions in limine can be accessed here, here, and here.  Judge Robinson denied  in part and granted in part Goodman’s motion for judgment as a matter of law and, in the alternative, for a new trial.  Goodman argued that a new trial was warranted because “Carrier made improper arguments to the jury concerning indemnity, presented a moving target of ‘copying,’ and compared invalidating a patent to the termination of parental rights.”  Id. at 31-32.

Regarding indemnification, Carrier’s counsel argued during closing that Goodman knew of the infringement but “tried to put the exposure on Emerson” based on an indemnity clause in the contract between Emerson and Goodman.  Id. at 33-34.  Judge Robinson noted that Federal Rule of Evidence 411 states that evidence of whether or not a person is insured against liability is not admissible to prove negligence or wrongful behavior.  Id. at 34.  The indemnification issue “came up in connection with the use of a standard purchase order unrelated to the issues of patents or infringement.”  Id. at 35.  A new trial as to indirect infringement was warranted because Carrier’s counsel “exploited” the standard purchase order evidence during closing argument.  Id.

Regarding copying and the appropriate burden of proof, Carrier’s counsel told the jury during opening statements that that this was a case about two companies, “[one], and innovator, and one an imitator.”  Id. at 35.  Subsequently, at sidebar, the parties agreed to take the issue of copying out of the case, but at closing Carrier’s counsel reiterated the copying evidence and tied it to its claims of infringement.  Id. at 36.  Carrier’s counsel also compared the standard of proof for invalidating a patent to that for terminating a person’s parental rights.  Id. After a sidebar, Judge Robinson read a curative instruction to disregard any description of burden of proof other than as set forth in the jury instructions and that copying was not at issue.  Id. at 37.  Judge Robinson determined, however, that despite the curative instruction a new trial was warranted because “the trial record was complex enough and, more significantly, balanced enough to make any gratuitous argument sufficient to tip the balance for the wrong reason.”  Id.

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