322 U.S. 238 (1944), 398, Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v Hartford-Empire Co.

Docket Nº:No. 398
Citation:322 U.S. 238, 64 S.Ct. 997, 88 L.Ed. 1250
Party Name:Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v Hartford-Empire Co.
Case Date:May 15, 1944
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 238

322 U.S. 238 (1944)

64 S.Ct. 997, 88 L.Ed. 1250

Hazel-Atlas Glass Co. v Hartford-Empire Co.

No. 398

United States Supreme Court

May 15, 1944

Argued February 9, 10, 1944




Upon appeal from a judgment of the District Court denying relief in a suit by Hartford against Hazel for infringement of a patent, the Circuit Court of Appeals in 1932 held Hartford's patent valid and infringed, and, upon its mandate, the District Court entered judgment accordingly. In 1941, Hazel commenced in the Circuit Court of Appeals this proceeding, wherein it conclusively appeared that Hartford, through publication of an article purporting to have been written by a disinterested person, had perpetrated a fraud on the Patent Office in obtaining the patent and on the Circuit Court of Appeals itself in the infringement suit. Upon review here of an order of the Circuit Court of Appeals denying relief, held:

1. Upon the record, the Circuit Court of Appeals had the power and the duty to vacate its 1932 judgment and to give the District Court appropriate directions. P. 247.

(a) Even if Hazel failed to exercise due diligence to uncover the fraud, relief may not be denied on that ground alone, since public interests are involved. P. 246.

(b) In the circumstances, Hartford may not be heard to dispute the effectiveness, nor to assert the truth, of the article. P. 247.

2. The Circuit Court of Appeals is directed to set aside its 1932 judgment, recall its 1932 mandate, dismiss Hartford's appeal, and to issue a mandate to the District Court directing it to set aside its judgment entered pursuant to the 1932 mandate, to reinstate its original judgment denying relief to Hartford, and to take such additional action as may be necessary and appropriate. P. 250.

137 F.2d 764, reversed.

Page 239

CERTIORARI, 320 U.S. 732, to review an order of the Circuit Court of Appeals denying relief in a bill of review proceeding commenced in that court.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case involves the power of a Circuit Court of Appeals, upon proof that fraud was perpetrated on it by a successful litigant, to vacate its own judgment entered at a prior term and direct vacation of a District Court's decree entered pursuant to the Circuit Court of Appeals' mandate.

Hazel-Atlas commenced the present suit in November, 1941, by filing in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals a petition for leave to file a bill of review in the District Court to set aside a judgment entered by that Court against Hazel in 1932 pursuant to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' mandate. Hazel contended that the Circuit Court of Appeals' judgment had been obtained by fraud, and supported this charge with affidavits and exhibits. Hartford-Empire, in whose favor the challenged judgment had been entered, did not question the appellate court's power to consider the petition, but filed counter affidavits and exhibits. After a hearing, the Circuit Court concluded that, since the alleged fraud had been practiced on it, rather than the District Court, it would pass on the

Page 240

issues of fraud itself, instead of sending the case to the District Court. An order was thereupon entered denying the petition as framed but granting Hazel leave to amend the prayer of the petition to ask that the Circuit Court itself hear and determine the issue of fraud. Hazel accordingly amended, praying that the 1932 judgments against it be vacated and for such other relief as might be just. Hartford then replied and filed additional exhibits and affidavits. The following facts were shown by the record without dispute.

In 1926, Hartford had pending an application for a patent on a machine which utilized a method of pouring glass into molds known as "gob feeding." The application, according to the Circuit Court, "was confronted with apparently insurmountable Patent Office opposition." To help along the application, certain officials and attorneys of Hartford determined to have published in a trade journal an article [64 S.Ct. 999] signed by an ostensibly disinterested expert which would describe the "gob feeding" device as a remarkable advance in the art of fashioning glass by machine. Accordingly, these officials prepared an article entitled "Introduction of Automatic Glass Working Machinery; How Received by Organized Labor," which referred to "gob feeding" as one of the two "revolutionary devices" with which workmen skilled in bottle-blowing had been confronted since they had organized. After unsuccessfully attempting to persuade the President of the Bottle Blowers' Association to sign this article, the Hartford officials, together with other persons called to their aid, procured the signature of one William P. Clarke, widely known as National President of the Flint Glass Workers' Union. Subsequently, in July, 1926, the article was published in the National Glass Budget, and in October, 1926, it was introduced as part of the record in support of the pending application in the Patent Office.

Page 241

January 38 1928, the Patent Office granted the application as Patent No. 1,655,391.

On June 6, 1928, Hartford brought suit in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania charging that Hazel was infringing this "gob feeding" patent, and praying for an injunction against further infringement and for an accounting for profits and damages. Without referring to the Clarke article, which was in the record only as part of the "file-wrapper" history, and which apparently was not then emphasized by counsel, the District Court dismissed the bill on the ground that no infringement had been proved. 39 F.2d 111. Hartford appealed. In their brief filed with the Circuit Court of Appeals, the attorneys for Hartford, one of whom had played a part in getting the spurious article prepared for publication, directed the Court's attention to "The article by Mr. William Clarke, former President of the Glass Workers' Union." The reference was not without effect. Quoting copiously from the article to show that "labor organizations of practical workmen recognized" the "new and differentiating elements" of the "gob feeding" patent owned by Hartford, the Circuit Court, on May 5, 1932, held the patent valid and infringed, reversed the District Court's judgment, and directed that court to enter a decree accordingly. 59 F.2d 399, 403, 404.

At the time of the trial in the District Court in 1929, where the article seemingly played no important part, the attorneys of Hazel received information that both Clarke and one of Hartford's lawyers had, several years previously, admitted that the Hartford lawyer was the true author of the spurious publication. Hazel's attorneys did not at that time attempt to verify the truth of the hearsay story of the article's authorship, but relied upon other defenses which proved successful. After the opinion of the Circuit Court came down on May 5, 1932, quoting the spurious

Page 242

article and reversing the decree of the District Court, Hazel hired investigators for the purpose of verifying the hearsay by admissible evidence. One of these investigators interviewed Clarke in Toledo, Ohio, on May 13 and again on May 24. In each interview, Clarke insisted that he wrote the article, and would so swear if summoned. In the second interview, the investigator asked Clarke to sign a statement telling in detail how the article was prepared, and further asked to see Clarke's files. Clarke replied that he would not "stultify" himself by signing any "statement or affidavit;" and that he would show the records to no one unless compelled by a subpoena. At the same time, he reinforced his claim of authorship by asserting that he had spent seven weeks in preparing the article.

But, unknown to Hazel's investigator, a representative of Hartford, secretly informed of the investigator's view that Hazel's only chance of reopening the case "was to get an affidavit from someone, to the effect that this article was written" by Hartford's attorney, also had traveled to Toledo. Hartford's representative first went to Toledo and talked to Clarke on May 10, three days before Hazel's investigator first interviewed Clarke, and he returned to Toledo again on May 22 for a five-day stay. Thus at the time of the investigator's second interview with Clarke on May 24, representatives of both companies were in touch with Clarke in Toledo. But, though Hartford's representative knew the investigator was there, the latter was unaware of the presence of the [64 S.Ct. 1000] Hartford representative. On May 24, Hazel's investigator reported failure; the same day, Hartford's man reported "very successful results." Four days later, on May 28, Hartford's representative reported his "success" more fully. Clarke, he said, had been of "great assistance," and Hartford was in a "most satisfactory position;" it did not "seem wise to distribute copies of all the papers" the representative then had or

Page 243

to "go into much detail in correspondence," and Hartford was "quite indebted to Mr. Clarke," who "might easily have caused us a lot of trouble. This should not be forgotten. . . ." Among the "papers" which the representative had procured from Clarke was an affidavit signed by Clarke stating that he, Clarke, had "signed the article and released it for publication." The affidavit was dated May 24 -- the very day that Clarke had told Hazel's investigator he would not "stultify" himself by signing any affidavit and would produce his papers for no one except upon subpoena.

Shortly afterward, Hazel capitulated. It paid Hartford $1,000,000 and entered into certain licensing agreements. The day following the settlement, Hartford's representative traveled back to Toledo and talked to Clarke. At this meeting, Clarke asked for $10,000. Hartford's representative told him that...

To continue reading