Thursday, January 23, 2020

CAFC reverses SDNY in Mirror Worlds v. Facebook

The outcome in Mirror Worlds v. Facebook was that Facebook lost:

We agree with Mirror Worlds that the district court’s
judgment must be reversed. The district court relied for its
decision on an erroneous conclusion that there is no genuine dispute about certain facts.
Facebook defends the summary judgment on alternative grounds. We will not affirm
on those alternative grounds. We reverse the court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings.

As to Facebook:

Facebook provides a popular social networking service.
Several features of Facebook’s service are relevant to this
appeal. According to Facebook’s description in this case,
the “News Feed” for a Facebook user displays a variety of
items that Facebook has “deemed to be relevant” to that
user. J.A. 1104. “Timeline,” Facebook says, “focuse[s] on a
particular Facebook user,” showing “basic information
about that user, as well as actions taken on Facebook by or
directed toward that user.” Id. And “Activity Log” provides
“a list of activities that occurred on Facebook that pertain
to a particular user.” J.A. 1106.2

Generally, the content Facebook users see is an amalgamation of “objects” and “associations,” which are two
classes of data. Users, pictures, and comments are types of
objects, while associations describe the relationship between objects. For example, if user “Alice” posts a comment
on Facebook, an “authorship” association would connect Alice and the comment.

In providing content to users, both News Feed and
Timeline rely on certain “front-end” hardware and software. The evidence—when understood most favorably to
Mirror Worlds, as required when considering summary
judgment—indicates that these front-end components
include a user’s desktop computer, smartphone, or comparable device and its resident software, together with certain “web” technologies, including a PHP layer. See, e.g.,
J.A. 1483–85, 1488, 1550, 2117–18, 2132, 2422, 2599. The
two services also rely on certain “back-end” computing
equipment and associated software to which the user’s device is connected over a network such as the Internet. The
back-end infrastructure for News Feed is called “Multifeed.” The “Timeline back-end system” supports both the
Timeline and Activity Log features. In the summary-judgment proceedings, Mirror Worlds asserted that those two
back-end systems were the “computer system[s]” for purposes of the claims.


Fact discovery was not due to close until September
2018. See J.A. 1045–46, 1057, 1061. But in April 2018,
after completion of the briefing on claim construction—but
before significant expert or other factual discovery had occurred—Facebook filed a letter with the court, asking permission to file a motion for summary judgment. J.A. 1015–
17. At a status conference, Facebook argued that it had a
simple, case-ending point to make, while Mirror Worlds asserted that contention interrogatories cannot be filed under
local rules until the close of fact discovery, that it was not
accusing Facebook as a whole but had identified the two
back-end systems separately from TAO, and that the record did not even include expert disclosures or depositions.
The court granted Facebook leave to file a motion for summary judgment and set out a schedule for responses, while
allowing discovery to continue. J.A. 1065–66.

The error by the district court:

We conclude that, on the current record evidence, the
district court erred in concluding that a reasonable jury
would have to find that the Multifeed Aggregator receives
data from TAO that is not in Leaves. That erroneous conclusion was the sole basis
for the grant of summary judgment as to News Feed.

Of other matters:

First, citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317
(1986), Facebook argues that it is entitled to summary
judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on the
ground that Mirror Worlds failed to provide evidence that
would permit a jury to find that Leaves or TimelineDB contains every data unit received or generated by, respectively,
Multifeed or the Timeline back-end system. The Second
Circuit has explained that “when a defendant moves for
summary judgment, it is the defendant who must show entitlement to judgment, notwithstanding that, at trial, the
plaintiff will have the burden of proving every element of
its claim.” Nick’s Garage, Inc. v. Progressive Casualty Ins.
Co., 875 F.3d 107, 115 (2d Cir. 2017). “The mere assertion
by a defendant moving for summary judgment that the
plaintiff ‘has not produced any evidence’ to support an essential element of the plaintiff’s claim does not satisfy the
burden that Rule 56(a) imposes.” Id. “[U]nless the moving
defendant cites portions of the record that show its entitlement to judgment, an assertion by the defendant that the
plaintiff ‘has not produced any evidence,’ without more,
does not show that the plaintiff has insufficient evidence.”
Id. at 115–16.

Facebook, in its summary-judgment motion, did not
show that Mirror Worlds “cannot produce admissible evidence to carry
its burden” to show that Leaves or TimelineDB contains every data unit. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)
advisory committee’s note to 2010 amendment. “A plaintiff
is under no obligation to ‘produce’ its evidence prior to trial,
unless such an obligation arose in response to a discovery
demand (or a court order) requiring the plaintiff to set forth
the evidence supporting its claim.” Nick’s Garage, 875 F.3d
at 115. As far as we have been shown, Facebook has not
made a discovery demand that Mirror Worlds identify all
its evidence for the “every data unit” limitation. Given that
discovery is still open, Mirror Worlds may still muster evidence to prove its claim. Facebook has not otherwise
shown that sufficient evidence cannot be produced.


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