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Rates Technology Inc. v. Cablevision Systems Corp.

October 20, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hurley, District Judge


Plaintiff Rates Technology Inc. ("Plaintiff") has filed an objection to an Order of Magistrate Judge William Wall, dated April 14, 2006. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's objection is denied and the Order is affirmed in its entirety.


Plaintiff filed this patent infringement case on July 29, 2005, alleging, inter alia, that the sale of Optimum Voice, Optimum Online VoIP and voice messaging services by Cablevision Systems Corp. ("Defendant") infringed upon two of Plaintiff's patents. Plaintiff seeks actual damages in the amount of $950 million and requests trebling to $2.85 billion under 35 U.S.C. § 284.

On April 11, 2006, Defendant filed a motion to compel responses to document demands and interrogatories. Specifically, Defendant sought an order directing Plaintiff to produce any licenses, settlement agreements, covenants not to sue, and other agreements between the Plaintiff and various non-parties concerning both of the patents at issue in this case. Plaintiff opposed the motion, primarily on the ground that discovery of such information would ultimately be inadmissible under Federal Rules of Evidence ("FRE") 408. Plaintiff did not claim that the content of the agreements was in any way privileged.

On April 14, 2006, Judge Wall granted Defendant's motion. It is this order which is the subject of the instant objection. The order provides in pertinent part as follows:

The court finds that the materials sought are discoverable in that they may lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, and that [Plaintiff's] reliance on FRE 408 is, at best, premature. During the course of this litigation, [Plaintiff] has bolstered its claims that its patents are universally accepted by stating that "over 120 companies have been covered under" the patents, and that [Plaintiff] has only had to litigate patent infringement claims "approximately 25 times out of some 740 covered companies." Having raised this information to its benefit, [Plaintiff] now seeks to bar inquiry into how or why those companies were "covered." Simply put, RTI cannot have it both ways.

The court takes no position on whether the information sought will be admissible at trial. FRE 408 states, in part, that evidence accepting "valuable consideration in compromising or attempting to compromise a claim which was disputed as to either validity or amount, is not admissible to prove liability for or invalidity of the claim or its amount." In its opposition papers, [Plaintiff] repeatedly asserts that its agreements with non-parties are settlements and not licenses. Prior communications from RTI, however, characterize the agreements somewhat differently: "[o]ur past 'licensing' practice has been to grant Covenant Not To Sue ('CNS') agreements and not formal licenses, in exchange for one-time payments." It is possible that the documents at issue wouldn't be considered settlement materials under FRE 408. Since discovery is ongoing and the question of admissibility is not currently before the court, it is premature to make a determination as to the nature of [Plaintiff's] other "agreements." (Apr. 14, 2006 Order at 2-3 (citations omitted).)

On April 24, 2006, Plaintiff timely filed objections. For the reasons stated below, the objections are denied.


I. Standard of Review

This court reviews a magistrate judge's decision regarding non-dispositive pretrial matters under a "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" standard. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). Discovery matters generally are considered non-dispositive of litigation. See Thomas E. Hoar, Inc. v. Sara Lee Corp., 900 F.2d 522, 525 (2d Cir. 1990).

An order is "clearly erroneous" only if a reviewing court, considering the entirety of the evidence, "'is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed'"; an order is "contrary to law" when it "'fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure.'" E.E.O.C. v. First Wireless Group, Inc., 225 F.R.D. 404, 405 (E.D.N.Y. 2004) (quoting Weiss v. La Suisse, 161 F. Supp. 2d 305, 320-21 (S.D.N.Y. 2001)). This standard is "highly deferential," "imposes a heavy burden on the objecting party," and "only permits reversal where the magistrate judge abused his discretion." Mitchell v. Century 21 Rustic Realty, 233 F. Supp. 2d 418, 430 (E.D.N.Y. 2002).

Because it is clear that a magistrate judge is best qualified to "judge the entire atmosphere of the discovery process," Bogan v. Northwestern Mut. Life Ins. Co., 144 F.R.D. 51, 53 (S.D.N.Y. 1992), his discovery-related rulings are entitled to a particular deference. See Nikkal Indus., Ltd. v. Salton, Inc., 689 F. Supp. 187, 189 (S.D.N.Y. 1988) ("Consistently, it has been held that a magistrate's report resolving a discovery discourse between ...

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