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Simpson Performance Products, Inc. v. Zamp Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Statesville Division

September 20, 2019

SIMPSON PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
ZAMP INC., Defendants.

          ORDER

          KENNETH D. BELL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Zamp, Inc.’s (“Zamp”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 46). The Court has carefully reviewed the motion and considered the parties’ briefs and exhibits.[1] For the reasons discussed below, the Court will DENY Zamp’s motion because there are genuine issues of material facts disputed between the parties on Plaintiff Simpson Performance Products, Inc.’s (“Simpson”) claims of patent infringement against Zamp and/or Zamp is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on those claims. Accordingly, this action should proceed towards a trial on the merits, if there is no earlier resolution of this matter either between the parties or by the Court.[2]

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment may only be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. A factual dispute is considered genuine “if 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 (1986). “A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Vannoy v. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, 827 F.3d 296, 300 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013)).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact through citations to the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions or affidavits in the record. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003). “The burden on the moving party may be discharged by ‘showing’. . . an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Once this initial burden is met, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party. The nonmoving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, ” Id. at 322 n.3. The nonmoving party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials of allegations in his pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 324.

         When ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court must view the evidence and any inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 657 (2014); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “Summary judgment cannot be granted merely because the court believes that the movant will prevail if the action is tried on the merits.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568–69 (4th Cir. 2015) (quoting 10A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2728 (3d ed.1998)). “The court therefore cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.” Id. at 569 (citing Mercantile Peninsula Bank v. French (In re French), 499 F.3d 345, 352 (4th Cir. 2007)).

         In the end, the question posed by a summary judgment motion is whether the evidence as applied to the governing legal rules “is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 252.

         II.RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In this action Simpson accuses Zamp of infringing and inducing infringement of nearly all of the nineteen claims of its U.S. Patent No. 9, 351, 529 (the “‘529 Patent” or the “Patent”), which relates to a system of tethers and a helmet cooperating with the tethers for controlling a driver's head during operation of a vehicle. Specifically, Simpson alleges that Zamp’s head and neck restraint products called the Zamp NT001003 Z-Tech Series 1A and Series 4A (the “Accused Products”) infringe the ‘529 Patent. The Court has previously held a claim construction hearing and issued an Order construing various claim terms and phrases in the Patent for which a construction was requested. See Doc. No. 36 (the “Claim Construction Order” or “CCO”). Zamp has not requested that the Court reconsider the CCO, and the Court finds no reason to do so at this time. Accordingly, the Court will apply the constructions of the claims as described in the CCO for the purpose of ruling on this motion.

         The background of the patented technology, the ‘529 Patent and the Accused Devices is described in detail in the Claim Construction Order and will not be repeated here. See Doc. No. 36 at pp. 2-7. In summary, the ‘529 Patent relates to “the field of safety devices worn by a driver when operating a high performance vehicle.” ‘529 Patent, col. 1, lines 14-15. A). It describes a restraint device that controls movement of a driver’s head, and reduces forces applied to a driver’s neck and spine when the driver is subjected to high acceleration and vibration forces.” Id. at col. 1, lines 16-18.

         The restraint device disclosed in the ‘529 Patent has a pair of side tethers for attachment to the helmet and a support member, and at least one rear tether attached to the support member and for attachment to the helmet. The rear tether and one of the pair of side tethers are jointly attached to the helmet at a single attachment point on each side of the helmet. Id.

         The Accused Products are also head and neck restraints, but the Series 1A and Series 4A products use a single piece of Kevlar webbing to attach the support frame or harness to the driver’s helmet. As described in the Declaration of David Zampierin and as shown in the exhibits attached to Defendant’s motion, on each side of the Accused Products a portion of the webbing extends from the frame to a helmet spring clip, and another portion of the webbing extends from the helmet spring clip to a “T buckle” coupled with the frame. Simpson alleges that these sections of the single strap define the “rear tether” and “side tethers” claimed in the ‘529 Patent, and Zamp disputes that contention as discussed further below.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The basis for Zamp’s motion is Zamp’s contention that the Accused Products do not infringe any claim of the ‘529 Patent because the Accused Products “do not include a rear tether and one of the pair of side tethers jointly attached to a helmet.” Further, Zamp argues that the Series 1A and Series 4A do not include “a rear and side tether [that] attach at a first common attachment location on the first side of the helmet and at a second common attachment location on the second side of the helmet, respectively.” Further, Zamp claims that because the Accused Products include only a single strap of Kevlar webbing, they do not have a rear tether and side tethers ...


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