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Superior Industries, Inc. v. Masaba, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 13, 2017

Superior Industries, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
Masaba, Inc., Defendant.

          John M. Weyrauch, Esq. Paul P. Kempf, Esq., and Peter R. Forrest, Esq., Dicke, Billig & Czaja, PLLC, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Jeffrey Carl Brown, Esq., Sapientia Law Group; and Sander J. Morehead, Esq. and Tim R. Shattuck, Esq., Woods Fuller Shultz & Smith, P.C., counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Masaba, Inc.'s (“Masaba”) Motion for Attorneys' Fees. (Doc. No. 256.) The Court assumes the reader's familiarity with the basic facts of this case, which are set out in detail in the Court's prior orders. In short, this action involved allegations by Plaintiff Superior Industries, Inc. (“Superior”) that Masaba infringed claims of U.S. Patent No. 7, 424, 943 (the '943 Patent), U.S. Patent No. 7, 607, 529 (the '529 Patent), and U.S. Patent No. 7, 845, 482 (the '482 Patent) (together the “Unloader Patents”)[1] by selling certain truck unloaders, and that Masaba infringed claims of U.S. Patent No. 7, 470, 101 (the '101 Patent) and U.S. Patent No. 7, 618, 231 (the '231 Patent”) (together, the “Support Strut Patents”)[2] by selling certain telescoping conveyors. (Doc. No. 36 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 14-32.) Masaba filed amended counterclaims seeking, in relevant part, declaratory judgment that the patents-in-suit are invalid.

         In August 2012, the Court issued a Markman Order construing the disputed claims. (Doc. No. 118 (the “Markman Order”).) The key constructions included:

• “support frame” - a frame consisting of a pair of side frame members and an end frame member that provides a barrier for supporting an earthen ramp that can also provide support for a pivoting ramp when it is in a lowered position;
• “ramp section” - first/second ramp section including a ramp and a frame consisting of a pair of side frame members and an end frame member that provides a barrier for supporting an earthen ramp that can also provide support for the pivoting ramp when it is in a lowered position;
• “channel beam” - a metal beam having a perimeter wall with three complete sides and one partial side configured to substantially surround all four sides of the respective beam it engages with; and
• “elongate opening” - slot defined by the openings in the partial fourth sides of the channel beams.

         Based on these constructions, Superior conceded that it could not prove infringement and filed a motion seeking entry of judgment of non-infringement and dismissal of the invalidity claims. (Doc. Nos. 143 & 144.) The Court granted Superior's motion for judgment of non-infringement. (Doc. No. 154.) Superior appealed the Markman Order to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. (Doc. No. 159.)

         On January 16, 2014, the Federal Circuit vacated and remanded the case for clarification, instructing the Court to provide a factual context to the disputed claim-construction issues so that the Federal Circuit could determine which of the claim constructions would affect the infringement analysis. Superior Indus., Inc. v. Masaba, Inc., 553 F. App'x 986, 989-91 (2014) (“Superior I”). Masaba filed a Second Motion for Summary Judgment of Non-Infringement. (Doc. No. 190.) The Court found that Masaba's accused unloaders do not contain a “support frame, ” that Masaba's support struts do not include a “channel beam, ” and therefore that Masaba's accused unloaders and support struts do not infringe any of the asserted patent claims. (Doc. No. 226 at 8-17.) The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Masaba. (Id. at 17.) Superior appealed the decision. On June 2, 2016, the Federal Circuit issued an opinion affirming the Court's claim construction and grant of summary judgment. Superior Indus., Inc. v. Masaba, Inc., 650 F. App'x 994 (2016) (“Superior II”). In particular, the Federal Circuit found the Court's construction of “support frame” and “ramp section, ” both of which required the support frame to be capable of supporting an earthen ramp, to be consistent with the explicit definitions of those terms in the Unloader Patents. Id. at 998-99. The Federal Circuit further explained:

The [district] court determined that Masaba's accused [unloader] designs do not infringe because they lack an end frame member and use steel ramps, not earthen ramps. In particular, the [district] court explained that Masaba's designs A-C have “no structure between the pivoting ramps and the portable steel access ramps that comprises a barrier at all, ” and Masaba's designs D and E “do not have any structure that could be characterized as a ramp support frame.”

(Id. at 998 (citations omitted).) The Federal Circuit noted that Superior argued that the court erred in construing “ramp section” to require a “support frame, ” that in turn requires the presence of an earthen ramp, but found that argument unpersuasive in light of the claim language and specification. (Id. at 998-99.) In addition, the Federal Circuit found that the construction of “channel beam” was correct because the specification and claims of the Strut Patents “make clear that a ‘channel beam' must have four sides, where the fourth side is a partial side.” (Id. at ...


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