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Overbeck Corp. v. Overbeck GmbH

March 30, 2007

OVERBECK CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OVERBECK GMBH, DANOBAT MACHINE TOOL CO., INC., DANOBAT S. COOP., AND BODO ZIMMERMAN, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Pending before the Court is the motion of defendants Overbeck GmbH ("GmbH"), Danobat Machine Tool Co., Inc., and Danobat S. Coop, ("defendants"),*fn1 made pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 39(a)(2), to strike plaintiff's jury demand. That motion was made during trial on November 14, 2005 - at which time the Court, as explained infra, essentially reserved decision - and was renewed orally on November 17, 2005, immediately after the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff Overbeck Corporation ("plaintiff").

BACKGROUND

In early February 2003, defendants sent plaintiff a "cease and desist" letter concerning plaintiff's use of the mark "Overbeck" in the United States. Plaintiff, which had registered the Overbeck mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, responded by commencing the current action. The complaint, with jury demand, sought both injunctive relief and damages based on numerous causes of action, including ones for trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition.

Defendants filed an answer on March 31, 2003. Therein, one of the defendants, to wit, GmbH, asserted multiple counterclaims seeking damages and injunctive relief based on, inter alia, plaintiff's purported infringement of GmbH's trademark rights in the name Overbeck. GmbH demanded a jury trial as to its counterclaims.

In October 2005, defendants served a motion in limine to preclude plaintiff from introducing evidence at trial as to damages based on its failure to comply with various discovery orders. That motion was scheduled to be heard on November 7, 2005, i.e. on the same date set for jury selection. After the jury was selected on that date, but before evidence was taken beginning on November 8, 2005, the Court granted defendants' in limine motion via the issuance of an oral order of preclusion. (See Transcript ("Tr.") of Nov. 7, 2005 at 84-98.)

After both sides had fully presented their evidence to the jury (Nov. 14, 2005 Tr. at 734), the Court heard motions made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). (Id. at 746-811.) At the conclusion of that process, only three of plaintiff's causes of action, all federally-based, remained, to wit, trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition. (Id. at 812-13.) Immediately after that determination was made, defendants raised the issue as to whether any of those three claims should be submitted to the jury given that no evidence of damages was presented by plaintiff consistent with the November 8th preclusion order. In defendants' view, that question called for a negative answer because of the "two things" plaintiff originally sought, namely an "injunction and money," only the former remains in play and is "addressed to [the Court]," not the jury. (Id. at 837.) To underscore that point, defendants asked: "what would the jury be asked to decide . . . ? Nothing." (Id.) Plaintiff countered by arguing that simply deleting a claim for damages from what would otherwise be concededly a legal cause of action does not deprive plaintiff of its constitutional right to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment.

After a fairly lengthy, largely unproductive discussion between the lawyers and the Court concerning this previously unbroached subject, I suggested the following approach: that plaintiff's remaining claims be presented to the jury, with the understanding that if I subsequently concluded defendants' position was correct - after having the benefit of both parties' briefs on the issue - I would treat the jury's verdict as merely advisory and decide the subject issues myself; otherwise, the jury's verdict would be accepted as dispositive, subject to possible post-verdict motions. (Nov. 15, 2005 Tr. at 883-84.) Plaintiff thought "as a practical matter that [was] the best way to proceed" (id. at 884), while defendants objected to my, in effect, reserving decision on the issue (id. at 885). Having received counsels' input, I indicated that the foregoing approach would be implemented.

During the charge conference on November 16th, GmbH argued that it was entitled to a jury decision on one or more of its counterclaims. That argument was rejected by the Court on the ground that the record was devoid of information which would permit a jury to determine the damages, if any, sustained by GmbH other than via rank speculation. (Nov. 16, 2005 Tr. at 947-51.) Closing arguments occurred immediately thereafter, followed by the Court's charge. The jury's verdict was in favor of plaintiff on each of its three causes of action and against GmbH as to its counterclaims.

POSITIONS OF PARTIES

The core of defendants' position in moving to strike plaintiff's jury demand was identified earlier. As more fully developed in their Memorandum in Support, defendants argue: (1) "[w]hether Plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial is determined as of the time the case is submitted to the jury," (2) "[s]ince only equitable remedies are now available to Plaintiff, it is not entitled to a jury trial," (3) "defendants have a right to a bench trial," and (4) "if the jury's decision is deemed the decision of an advisory jury, the Court should disregard it." (Defs.' Supp. Mem., Table of Contents (each letter in items "3" and "4" are fully capitalized in original.))

In response, plaintiff argues that (1) "the right to a jury trial is preserved by the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution," (2) "plaintiff has the right to a jury trial on its legal claims and on defendants' legal counterclaims," (3) "defendants waived their right to strike the jury trial demand," and (4) "there is no constitutional right to a bench trial." (Pl.'s Opp. Mem., Table of Contents (in some instances, the use of upper and lower cases is different in the original.))

DISCUSSION

1. Applicable Law Regarding Right to Jury Trial Under ...


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