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Phil-Insul Corp. v. Airlite Plastics Co.

Rule 36 Affirmance Sufficient to Support Collateral Estoppel

Phil-Insul Corp. v. Airlite Plastics Co., (Fed. Cir. Apr. 17, 2017) (O’MALLEY, Bryson, Wallach) (D. Neb.: Bataillon) (3 of 5 stars)

Fed Cir affirms summary judgment of noninfringement due to collateral estoppel. In 2011, IntegraSpec (trade name of Phil-Insul) had unsuccessfully sued separate defendants on the same patent (“the ’933 patent”), resulting in a claim construction and SJ of noninfringement, which the Federal Circuit affirmed without opinion (i.e., a “Rule 36” judgment). The district court did not err in concluding that that case barred IntegraSpec’s assertion of the same patent here due to collateral estoppel. The opinion rejects IntegraSpec’s argument that a Rule 36 summary affirmance are not valid and final judgments suitable to support collateral estoppel. Citing Taylor, 407 U.S. 191 (1972), the opinion confirms that Rule 36 affirmances are valid and final judgments. Per Rates Technology, 688 F.3d 742 (Fed. Cir. 2012), they may support estoppel. TecSec, 731 F.3d 1336 (Fed. Cir. 2013), is not contrary. There, the issue was whether the parties were bound by a district court’s claim construction in a matter resolved via Rule 36 affirmance; as that construction was not necessary to the judgment, it was not preclusive. TecSec expressly rejected the contention that Rule 36 affirmance can never support collateral estoppel. In the present appeal, it was “clear that the prior panel actually and necessarily adopted the district court’s claim constructions when it affirmed the judgments[,]” so TecSec did not apply. Slip op. at 19. Further, IntegraSpec had not appealed certain claim construction issues in the prior appeal. The opinion further compares the prior case and the present one and finds no error in the determination that the accused products in both cases were substantially the same, so there was no error in summary judgment of noninfringement. The opinion rejects IntegraSpec’s attempt to cite the oral argument transcript in the prior appeal as casting doubt on the correctness of the district court’s claim constructions. Finally, the opinion rejects IntegraSpec’s argument that claim 2 (in the present case) should be construed anew because that claim was not at issue in the present appeal. Numerous claim terms overlap, and the opinion rejects IntegraSpec’s contention that the same words might be construed differently in the two claims.

KEYWORDS: COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL (YES); SUMMARY AFFIRMANCE; RULE 36