SD3, LLC v. Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc.

Decision Date15 September 2015
Docket NumberNo. 14–1746.,14–1746.
PartiesSD3, LLC; Sawstop LLC, Plaintiffs–Appellants, v. BLACK & DECKER (U.S.) INC.; Black & Decker Corporation; Chang Type Industrial Co., Ltd. ; Delta Power Equipment Corp.; Hitachi Koki Co., Ltd.; Hitachi Koki USA Ltd.; Makita Corporation; Makita U.S.A., Inc.; Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp.; One World Technologies, Inc.; OWT Industries, Inc.; Robert Bosch GmbH; Robert Bosch Tool Corporation; Ryobi Technologies, Inc.; Stanley Black & Decker, Inc.; Techtronic Industries, Co., Ltd. ; Techtronic Industries North America, Inc.; Pentair Water Group, Inc.; Emerson Electric Company; Pentair, Inc., Defendants–Appellees, and Dewalt Industrial Tools; Emerson Electric Company, Inc.; Pentair Corporation; Porter–Cable Corporation; Skil Power Tools, Defendants. American Antitrust Institute; National Consumers League, Amici Supporting Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED:Joel Davidow, Cuneo Gilbert & Laduca, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. James Scott Ballenger, Latham & Watkins, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellees. ON BRIEF:Jonathan W. Cuneo, Matthew E. Miller, Cuneo Gilbert & Laduca, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellants. John D. Harkrider, Richard B. Dagen, Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP, Washington, D.C., Bernard J. DiMuro, Dimuro Ginsberg PC, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellees Stanley Black & Decker, Incorporated, Black & Decker (U.S.) Incorporated, and Black & Decker Corporation; Christopher S. Yates, Christopher B. Campbell, Aaron T. Chiu, Latham & Watkins LLP, San Francisco, California, for Appellee Emerson Electric Company; Paul Devinsky, Stefan M. Meisner, McDermott Will & Emery LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellees Hitachi Koki USA Ltd. and Hitachi Koki Co., Ltd.; Lee H. Simowitz, Elizabeth A. Scully, Katherine L. McKnight, Baker & Hostetler LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellees Makita USA Incorporated and Makita Corporation; David M. Foster, Washington, D.C., Layne E. Kruse, Eliot Fielding Turner, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, Houston, Texas, for Appellees Robert Bosch Tool Corporation and Robert Bosch GMBH; James G. Kress, Baker Botts L.L.P., Washington, D.C., Scott W. Hansen, Steven P. Bogart, James N. Law, Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren S.C., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for Appellees Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, One World Technologies, Incorporated, OWT Industries, Incorporated, Ryobi Technologies, Incorporated, Techtronics Industries Co., Ltd., and Techtronic Industries North America, Incorporated. Seth D. Greenstein, David D. Golden, Constantine Cannon LLP, Washington, D.C., for Amici Curiae.

Before WILKINSON, AGEE, and WYNN, Circuit Judges.


Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded by published opinion. Judge AGEE wrote the opinion, in which Judge WYNN joined. Judge WYNN wrote a separate concurring opinion. Judge WILKINSON wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

AGEE, Circuit Judge:

SD3, LLC and its subsidiary, SawStop, LLC (together, SawStop), contend that several major table-saw manufacturers conspired to boycott SawStop's safety technology and corrupt a private safety-standard-setting process, all with the aim of keeping that technology off the market. Consequently, SawStop sued nearly two dozen saw manufacturers and affiliated entities, alleging that they violated § 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. The district court dismissed SawStop's amended complaint based on, among other things, its belief that SawStop had failed to plead facts establishing an unlawful agreement. See SD3, LLC v. Black & Decker (U.S.), Inc., No. 11:14–cv–191, 2014 WL 3500674 (E.D.Va. July 15, 2014). SawStop appealed.

We agree with the district court that several parts of SawStop's case cannot go forward. SawStop's complaint does not plausibly allege any conspiracy to manipulate safety standards, so we affirm the district court's decision to dismiss SawStop's claims concerning standard-setting. Likewise, the complaint fails to allege any facts at all against several corporate parents and affiliates, so we affirm the district court's decision to dismiss all claims against those defendants.

But as to the remaining defendants, SawStop has alleged enough to suggest a plausible agreement to engage in a group boycott. Although that claim may not prove ultimately successful at trial, or even survive summary judgment, the complaint offers enough to survive the defendants' motion to dismiss. [A] well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.”1 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Thus, we vacate the district court's decision dismissing SawStop's group-boycott claim and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background
A. Relevant Facts

This appeal concerns a decision on a motion to dismiss, so we draw the relevant facts only from allegations in SawStop's complaint and from sources incorporated into that complaint. “In reviewing the dismissal of a complaint, we must assume all well-pled facts to be true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Cooksey v. Futrell, 721 F.3d 226, 234 (4th Cir.2013). Keeping that standard in mind, we now consider the relevant facts.


In the 1990s, SawStop's founder, Dr. Stephen Gass, created a form of “active injury mitigation technology” (“AIMT”) meant to prevent some hand and finger injuries on table saws. In basic terms, Gass' technology “detects contact between a person and the blade and then stops and retracts the blade to mitigate injury.” J.A. 83 ¶ 60. When this system works as it should, a table-saw user who makes contact with the blade will suffer only a small nick rather than more serious injury.

Gass and his co-inventors initially sought to capitalize on their invention by pursuing licensing agreements with the major table-saw manufacturers. The effort began in August 2000, when SawStop first took a “prototype table saw” to a trade show to publicly demonstrate the technology. J.A. 86 ¶ 66. That demonstration spurred meetings with some table-saw manufacturers, including S–B Power Tool Corp.; Black & Decker (U.S.), Inc.; Emerson Electric Company; and Ryobi Technologies, Inc. J.A. 86 ¶ 67. During these meetings, SawStop sought royalties at “typical commercial rates” of about “8% of wholesale prices” in any license agreement. J.A. 86 ¶ 65.

The technology “impressed” the manufacturers. J.A. 87 ¶ 68. Ryobi, for instance, formed a team to determine whether it could incorporate SawStop's technology into its products; Ryobi's counsel wanted to adopt the technology “as fast as they [could].” J.A. 87 ¶ 69. S–B Power Tool likewise expressed interest in “going forward.” J.A. 88 ¶ 73. One Black & Decker U.S. employee told Gass that he felt a licensing agreement was “inevitable,” even though Black & Decker was “used to being able to crush little guys.” J.A. 88 ¶ 76. Emerson's then-president also held in-person meetings with SawStop to discuss a potential deal. J.A. 88–89 ¶ 77. Several manufacturers conducted technical studies to evaluate SawStop's effectiveness in preventing table-saw accidents, which produced positive results. J.A. 87–88 ¶¶ 70, 74.

Still, table-saw manufacturers also held reservations, one of which was product liability exposure. If some manufacturers adopted AIMT while others did not, then an issue could arise as to whether the non-adopters might be sued for producing an inherently unsafe product. J.A. 90 ¶ 81. But a lawyer for one defendant noted that the AIMT technology might be deemed infeasible, and therefore less relevant in product-liability suits, if it did not enter the market for some period. J.A. 8788 ¶ 72.

Putting aside product liability, some saw manufacturers held other concerns, including that engineering and cost factors could render the technology infeasible. By all accounts, SawStop had not yet tested its technology in the marketplace. That testing would take some time, and SawStop itself estimated that the device could not have been fully implemented on all table saws until as late as 2008. J.A. 92 ¶ 90. At least one industry insider also believed that SawStop's AIMT could induce consumers to dispense with other safety features. J.A. 87 ¶ 71. Furthermore, AIMT did not prevent certain other common table-saw injuries, like kickback. Id.

SawStop's licensing discussions did not produce any immediate results. One manufacturer, S–B Power Tool, ended licensing discussions in September 2001. J.A. 88 ¶ 75.


In October 2001, table-saw manufacturers allegedly met and “decide[d] how to respond, as an industry, to the SawStop [t]echnology.” J.A. 89 ¶ 80. The meeting occurred in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Power Tool Institute, a trade association. Like the broader annual meeting, the table-saw session drew representatives from across the industry, including S–B Power Tool; Ryobi; Makita USA, Inc.; Emerson; Porter–Cable Corp.; Hitachi Koki USA Ltd.; Black & Decker U.S.; and Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. J.A. 89 ¶ 79.

SawStop alleges that the October 2001 meeting gave birth to a group boycott against SawStop. The manufacturers first purportedly determined to take an “all” or “nothing” approach, in which all table-saw manufacturers would adopt SawStop's technology or none would. J.A. 89–90 ¶ 80. Then, they allegedly took the latter path: they “agree[d] not to purchase technology licenses from [SawStop] or otherwise implement AIMT.” J.A. 90 ¶ 80. [N]o contrary views [were] articulated.” Id. By keeping SawStop out of the market, the manufacturers hoped that “it would remain ... at least plausible for [them] to contend, in defending product liability lawsuits, that AIMT was not viable.” J.A. 90 ¶ 81.

Ultimately, SawStop contends, the group boycott succeeded. [T]hose Defendants not yet in license negotiations with SawStop refrained...

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