Hynix Fails to Beat Rambus on Collateral Estoppel Issue

Rambus Hynix Semiconductor v. Rambus (N.D. Cal. 2005).

In an earlier lawsuit against Infineon, a court dismissed Rambus’s patent claims in a bench statement that "I have concluded that [Infineon] has proved, by clear and convincing evidence, a spoilation that warrants dismissal of [the patent infringement case] as the only appropriate sanction after having considered the alternatives."  However, the case settled before the judge issued a written opinion.

Now, Hynix argues that Rambus should be collaterally estopped from re-asserting the spoilage issue.  The N.D. Cal. disagreed with Hynix, finding that the elements for a finding of collateral estoppel were not met.

In the 9th Circuit, a party asserting collateral estoppel must show four elements:

  1. Full and fair opportunity to litigate in the previous action;
  2. Issue was actually litigated in that action;
  3. Issue was lost in a final judgment; and
  4. The person against whom collateral estoppel is asserted in the present action is in privity with the party from the previous action.

Using these elements, the court found (i) that the issue of spoilage (unclean hands) is particular to each litigation and thus had not been litigated in the Infineon case; and (ii) that the Infineon court’s statements from the bench did not constitute a "final judgment" because they were not "sufficiently firm."

While there is no question that Judge Payne was sufficiently settled in his decision that he was willing to dismiss Rambus’s patent claims at the conclusion of the evidentiary hearing on spoliation, he never issued a reasoned opinion, either written or oral, explaining his ruling. Before Judge Payne could issue such a ruling, Infineon and Rambus settled the action between them, stipulating to a dismissal with prejudice.

Seemingly to protect against the CAFC’s veto power, the opinion noted that even if all the elements of collateral estoppel were met, the court would use its discretion to deny the motion because such offensive uses of collateral estoppel are disfavored.

Hynix’s motion to dismiss Rambus’s patent claims for unclean hands on the basis of collateral estoppel is denied.