Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Monsanto v. Ralph: perjury in patent case

from the CAFC decision in Monsanto v. Ralph:

On the contrary, the record suggests that Ralph actively concealed the existence of those bags by leaving them at Sinkers until he believed that the order had expired. In fact, according to the district court, Ralph had represented under oath during the pendency of the order that there was no stored seed. Sanction Hearing Transcript, slip op. at 27. We find no abuse of discretion in the court’s refusal to allow Ralph to benefit from his own perjury. Furthermore, as Monsanto points out, the district court has the inherent power under section 37 to sanction abuses of the judicial process irrespective of the existence of any particular order.
Ralph’s arguments that his conduct would only have affected one out of four claims in this case and that he concealed information only to protect his friend Hendrix are similarly unavailing. The district court justifiably concluded that Ralph’s subornation of perjury and lying under oath with respect to cottonseed saved in 2000 cast a pall of doubt over all of his defenses. According to the court, “lies . . . compounded upon lies. . . . The violations [were] willful and continuing. The defendants . . . engaged in a systematic pattern of lying to keep the truth from being discovered in this case,” Sanction Hearing Transcript, slip op. at 30-31, and it was only when confronted with objective evidence that Ralph would purport to come clean, at which time he would “come forward and tell another story. . . . [T]he Court’s only conclusion is that they changed their story to fit the moving target of the truth,” id. at 28. Not only did Ralph destroy evidence, but in doing so he also knowingly violated the court’s orders and he was found to have lied under oath with regard to the extent of the destruction. As a result, the court concluded that it had “no confidence that we will ever know the truth in this case,” and that “[w]henever given the chance to tell the truth, the defendants have consistently chosen dishonesty.” Id. at 31. We conclude, therefore, that the court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to limit its sanctions to the cottonseed saved for 2000. With respect to Ralph’s argument that he was trying to protect Hendrix, we agree with the district court that “[l]ying to protect a friend is lying, pure and simple. Lying to give an alibi to another criminal is punishable. . . . Lying to protect a friend is nothing more than lying.” Id. at 28.
Ralph’s argument that Monsanto was not prejudiced by any of his perjured testimony because Monsanto uncovered all the facts on its own misses the point, because it fails to take into account that Monsanto had to take costly steps to uncover facts that Ralph was obligated to provide voluntarily. Moreover, because the district court found that the full truth could not be ascertained, the full extent of the prejudice to Monsanto from Ralph’s deceit is likewise unknowable. Further still, even if there was no harm at all to Monsanto, Ralph’s conduct undermined the integrity of the court and the judicial system, and sanctions would have been warranted on that basis alone. Finally, although we agree with Ralph that there are important public policy reasons to allow an accused infringer to prove that patents asserted against him are invalid or unenforceable, Ralph gave up the right to attempt to fulfill that role when he violated the court’s orders and lied to the court. Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion by striking Ralph’s pleadings.


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