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AcBel Polytech, Inc. v. Fairchild Semiconductor International, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 24, 2019

ACBEL POLYTECH INC., individually and as an assignee of certain claims, Plaintiff,
v.
FAIRCHILD SEMICONDUCTOR INTERNATIONAL, INC., and FAIRCHILD SEMICONDUCTOR CORPORATION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Indira Talwani United States District Judge

         Before the court is Plaintiff AcBel Polytech Inc.'s Motion in Limine [#431]. Plaintiff asks the court to preclude Defendants Fairchild Semiconductor International, Inc. and Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation (collectively, “Fairchild”) from 1) offering evidence or arguing that Fairchild did not manufacture or sell the shrunk-die KA7805 voltage regulators at issue in this case, and 2) offering evidence or arguing there is a limited warranty that applies to AcBel's claims. AcBel also seeks to prevent Fairchild from conducting discovery on these two issues. For the following reasons, the Motion in Limine [#431] is ALLOWED.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff AcBel Polytech Inc. (“AcBel”) asserted several claims against Fairchild, alleging that Fairchild's KA7805 voltage regulators (“KA7805s”) failed, causing AcBel's power supply units to fail and therefore causing economic injury to AcBel and its assignee, EMC Corp. (“EMC”). Judge Casper presided over the case initially. Following bench trial, the court determined that Synnex Technology International and Synnex Electronics Hong Kong Ltd. (“Synnex”), the companies that sold AcBel the KA7805s, was Fairchild's agent. AcBel Polytech Inc. v. Fairchild Semiconductor Int'l, Inc., 2017 WL 6625036 at *9-10 (D. Mass. Dec. 12, 2017).[1] The trial court also held that AcBel did not waive any implied warranties as to the KA7805s. Id. at *11.

         Resolving other issues in Fairchild's favor, the court entered judgment for Fairchild on the implied warranty claims. Id. at *12. AcBel appealed. Notice of Appeal [#372]. On appeal, Fairchild did not challenge the trial court's holding as to its relationship with Synnex, AcBel Polytech Inc. v. Fairchild Semiconductor Int'l, Inc., 928 F.3d 110, 116, n.6 (1st Cir. 2019), nor the holding on the limited warranty issue. The First Circuit reversed the trial court on grounds unrelated to these two issues and remanded the case for unrelated discovery and a new trial. See id. at 121.

         II. Analysis

         Fairchild argues it should be allowed to reopen the issues of Synnex's apparent authority and a limited warranty because: 1) the First Circuit did not address either Synnex's relationship with Fairchild or the limited warranty issue, and 2) new evidence exists as to the Synnex's agency relationship with Fairchild. The court considers each in turn.

         A) Law of the Case Doctrine

         The law of the case doctrine “contemplates that a legal decision made at one stage of a criminal or civil proceeding should remain the law of that case through the litigation.” Negron Almeda v. Santiago, 579 F.3d 45, 50 (1st Cir. 2009). “Unless corrected by an appellate tribunal, a legal decision made at one stage of a civil or criminal case constitutes the law of the case throughout the pendency of the litigation.” Latin Am. Music Co. Inc. v. Media Power Grp., Inc., 705 F.3d 34, 40 (1st Cir. 2013). The law of the case doctrine serves important principles, including “stability in the decisionmaking process, predictability of results, proper working relationships between trial and appellate courts, and judicial economy.” United States v. Rivera-Martinez, 931 F.2d 148, 151 (1st Cir. 1991).

         Here, Judge Casper held that Synnex acted on apparent authority and therefore was Fairchild's agent when selling the KA7805s to AcBel. 2017 WL 6625036 at *10. The court also held that there was no limited warranty between AcBel and Fairchild. Id. at *11. These findings are the law of the case. It makes no difference that the First Circuit reversed the trial court on unrelated issues - on remand, this court continues moving forward on the undisturbed decisions from the original trial court. Unless an exception applies, this court will not disturb the prior holdings, nor allow reopened discovery on the subjects.

         Fairchild is correct that it did not waive its right to challenge the district court's determination of these issues by not raising them during AcBel's appeal. The proper forum for reviewing the trial court's decisions on these issues, however, is before the First Circuit if AcBel prevails, and not in this court. Ms. S. v. Reg'l Sch. Unit 72, 916 F.3d 41, 47 (1st Cir. 2019). See also Christianson v. Colt Indus. Operating Corp., 486 U.S. 800, 817 (1988) (“[A] district court's adherence to law of the case cannot insulate an issue from appellate review”).

         B) New Evidence Exception

         Fairchild argues that it believes two witnesses - Synnex employees Sunny Peng and Tony Hsieh - have new evidence that will show that Synnex did not in fact have an agency relationship with Fairchild and therefore, this court should allow reopened discovery and re-litigation on the agency question.[2]

         “[A]s a rule, courts should be loathe” to revisit prior decisions of a coordinate court “in the absence of extraordinary circumstances.” Christianson, 486 U.S. at 817. Within this narrow frame, courts have held that the law of the case can be set aside if a party “proffer[s] significant new evidence, not earlier obtainable ...


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