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Greenberg Traurig, LLP v. Gale Corp.

August 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge


Plaintiff Greenberg Traurig, LLP ("Greenberg") has brought this present action to recover unpaid legal fees from its former client, Defendant Gale Corp. ("Gale"). In its Answer, Gale asserted as an affirmative defense that Greenberg's material breach of the contract excused Gale from performance. Gale has also brought counterclaims and third-party claims for malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. Named third-party Defendants include Livingston & Mattesich Law Corporation ("Livingston & Mattesich") and Kathleen Finnerty, the lead Livingston & Mattesich attorney for Gale in the patent litigation that underlies this contract dispute.

Greenberg now moves for summary judgment on its breach of contract claim. As set forth below, Greenberg's motion for summary judgment is denied.*fn1


On July 30, 2003, Gale entered into a Retainer Agreement with Livingston & Mattesich for legal representation in the patent infringement suit Kapusta v. Gale Corporation, United States District Court, Eastern District of California, No. Civ. S-03-1232 LKK/KJM ("Kapusta patent litigation"). Seven days later, Kathleen Finnerty became the lead counsel for Gale and took responsibility for handling its defense. Effective October 10, 2005, Livingston & Mattesich's attorneys joined Greenberg Traurig,*fn2 and Greenberg took over Gale's case under the same terms and conditions as set forth in the July 2003 Retainer Agreement. Third-party Defendant Finnerty remained Gale's lead attorney after joining Greenberg.

Following a Markman hearing,*fn3 on August 5, 2004, the Court issued an order that construed the term "hand-grip size case" in the Kapusta patent to be inapplicable to a "pen size device" such as Gale's challenged product. On October 28, 2004, as a result of the Court's claim construction, Ms. Finnerty entered into a stipulation on behalf of Defendant Gale, in which she agreed that Gale's product met each claim element under the patent except for the "hand grip case." Judgment of non-infringement was entered pursuant to that stipulation on November 2, 2004. Kapusta appealed the judgment to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. On appeal, the Federal Circuit overturned the district court's claim construction and held that the term "hand-grip size case" applies to a case of any size "that can be gripped in a normal hand." The Federal Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its claim construction.

On October 13, 2006, bound by the Federal Circuit's claim construction and the parties' stipulation, this Court went on to grant summary judgment against Gale for patent infringement. In granting summary judgment, the Court refused to grant Gale's request, under Rule 60(b), for release from its binding stipulation. Judge Karlton explained in his order that Rule 60(b) only provides a court with one year during which it may relieve a party from a final judgment. After the grant of summary judgment as to infringement, the parties settled their remaining claims.

Between March 10, 2006, and March 6, 2007, Greenberg sent Gale invoices totaling $218,476.08 for services rendered between February 1, 2006, and February 15, 2007. Gale has refused to pay these invoices on the ground that Greenberg did not competently perform its legal services. Consequently, on August 2, 2007, Plaintiff Greenberg filed its complaint in the present action, seeking $218,476.08, plus interest for Gale's alleged breach of contract.


The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 585-87 (1986); First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party must tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986); Owens v. Local No. 169, Assoc. of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, 971 F.2d 347, 355 (9th Cir. 1987). Stated another way, "before the evidence is left to the jury, there is a preliminary question for the judge, not whether there is literally no evidence, but whether there is any upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it, upon whom the onus of proof is imposed." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251 (quoting Improvement Co. v. Munson, 14 Wall. 442, 448, 20 L.Ed. 867 (1872)). As the Supreme Court explained, "[w]hen the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts .... Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87.

In resolving a summary judgment motion, the evidence of the opposing party is to be believed, and all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. ...

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