Trilink Saw Chain, LLC v. Blount, Inc., Civil Action No. 1:07-CV-0409-CAP.

Decision Date12 September 2008
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 1:07-CV-0409-CAP.
Citation583 F.Supp.2d 1293
PartiesTRILINK SAW CHAIN, LLC, and Trilink Global, LLC, Plaintiffs, Counter-Defendants v. BLOUNT, INC., and Oregon Cutting Systems Group, Defendants, Counter-Plaintiffs.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia

Elizabeth Ann Morgan, Cantor Colburn, LLP, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs, Counter-Defendants.

David S. Fleming, Jon H. Beaupre, Thomas L. Holt, Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione, Chicago, IL, Steven M. Kushner, Fellows Johnson & La Briola, Atlanta, GA, for Defendants, Counter-Plaintiffs.

ORDER

CHARLES A. PANNELL, JR., District Judge.

This matter is before the court on the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 149]; the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment [Doc. No. 157]; the defendants' motion to exclude the plaintiffs' technical expert [Doc. No. 160]; the plaintiffs' motion to unseal documents [Doc. No. 210]; the plaintiffs' request for immediate scheduling of trial [Doc. No. 216]; and the defendants' motion for leave to file a surreply to the plaintiffs' request for immediate scheduling of trial [Doc. No. 220].

Case Overview

Defendant Oregon Cutting Systems Group, a division of defendant Blount, Inc., (collectively, "Oregon"), is one of the world's leading manufacturers and marketers of saw chain, guide bars, and chain drive sprockets for chain saws. It designed and manufactured its first saw chain in the 1940s, the basic design of which is still widely used today.

Plaintiffs Trilink Saw Chain, LLC and Trilink Global, LLC (collectively, "Trilink") are companies that are also involved in the business of marketing, distributing, and selling chain saw components and accessories. Trilink was founded and began selling saw chain in or around 2005. It entered the consumer saw chain market in competition with Oregon because Trilink's principals saw an opportunity in an industry where there were principally two United States players, Oregon and non-party Carlton Company.

In 2005, Oregon had an estimated 57% market share for saw chain sales. However, Oregon considered Trilink a threat. Thus, in March 2006, Oregon prepared a memorandum comparing the Oregon chain and Trilink chain. This memorandum summarized the results of internal tests conducted by Oregon on Oregon and Trilink chain. Oregon pulled the highlights from this memorandum and placed them in a one-page abstract ("the Oregon Abstract"). Oregon discussed the contents of the Oregon Abstract with several customers and provided them with a copy of it at various times between March and November 2006.

In the summer of 2006, Oregon contracted third-parties Cincinnati Testing Laboratories ("CTL") and Svensk Maskin-provning ("SMP") to conduct additional tests on the Oregon and Trilink chain. After receiving CTL and SMP's test reports, Oregon prepared a comparative, six-page memorandum ("the Oregon Memo"). Oregon disseminated the Oregon Memo to customers throughout October and November 2006.

In 2006, Oregon also prepared a brochure ("the Oregon Brochure") entitled "Eight Important Considerations In Choosing Your Partner for Saw Chain," which it disseminated to its customers. [Doc. No. 126, Composite Ex. B]. This brochure purports to set forth a list of criteria that should be considered when choosing a saw chain provider.

Trilink alleges that Oregon's Abstract, Memo, and Brochure, along with other documents, (collectively, "the marketing materials") contain literally false or misleading statements intending to deceive or having the capacity to deceive potential buyers as to the strength, performance, and safety of the Trilink chain. Thus, Trilink filed this case on February 16, 2007,1 alleging that Oregon violated Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), and the Georgia Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, O.C.G.A. § 10-1-370 [Doc. No. 1]. In addition, Trilink alleges that Oregon, by way of its deceptive advertisements, tortiously interfered with Trilink's business relations with third-parties in contravention of Georgia common law.

Oregon has largely denied Trilink's allegations and has filed counterclaims against Trilink alleging trademark infringement in violation of Section 32(1) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1), and unfair competition under both Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a), and O.C.G.A. § 10-1-393 et seq. Specifically, Oregon contends that Trilink's use of the term "PROLINE" in connection with the sale of chain saw accessories unlawfully infringed upon Oregon's "PRO-LITE" trademark that it uses on and in connection with chain saw guide bars.

On November 2, 2007, Trilink filed for summary judgment on Oregon's counterclaims [Doc. No. 149]. Three days later, Oregon filed for summary judgment on Trilink's claim for monetary relief under its false advertising claim and on Trilink's tortious interference with business relations claim [Doc. No. 157]. Subsequently, Oregon moved to exclude Trilink's technical expert [Doc. No. 160], Trilink moved to unseal documents [Doc. No. 210] and for immediate scheduling of trial [Doc. No. 216], and Oregon moved for leave to file a surreply to Trilink's motion for immediate scheduling of trial [Doc. No. 220].

Pending Motions
I. Oregon's Motion to Exclude Trilink's Technical Expert [Doc. No. 160]

To show that Oregon's advertisements contain false and misleading claims, Trilink hired Hal I. Dunham as a technical expert. Dunham is a mechanical engineer who professes to have over 19 years of product testing experience. Trilink hopes to use Dunham's testimony to demonstrate that Oregon's marketing materials make claims that are unsupported by the testing data on the Oregon and Trilink chain. Trilink claims that Dunham will offer significant testimony which addresses: (1) how product testing generally is conducted, including the product design process; (2) how the Oregon testing diverged from normal product testing practices; and (3) how the Oregon test materials do not support the claims made therein. Trilink's Resp. Br., p. 8 [Doc. No. 181].

Dunham has already set forth much of his proposed testimony in an expert report [Doc. No. 160, Ex. A]. In this report, Dunham makes 19 conclusions, allegedly on the basis of his "education, experience, training and on the evidence currently obtained by and reported to him." Id. at pp. 1-2. In support of these conclusions, Dunham makes 18 "findings and observations" regarding the testing that was conducted. Id. at pp. 5-12.

Oregon has moved to exclude Dunham as a witness. Oregon claims that Dunham is not qualified to testify regarding the matters in this case because he has no professional and limited personal experience with saw chain and no experience with consumer surveys or consumer marketing research. Moreover, Oregon contends that the testimony that Dunham will offer does not constitute "expert" testimony and thus will not assist the trier of fact.

Both parties had an opportunity to develop their arguments on this matter at a hearing held on July 30, 2008. Accordingly, this order will take into consideration the issues discussed at that hearing as well as the issues presented in the briefs.

A. Legal Standard for Excluding Expert Testimony

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony. This rule states,

If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

The district court is obligated to act as a gatekeeper to the admission of expert testimony. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 597, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). Thus, the district court generally engages in a three-part inquiry derived from Rule 702 to determine the admissibility of expert testimony. Quiet Technology DC-8, Inc. v. Hurel-Dubois UK Ltd., 326 F.3d 1333, 1340-41 (11th Cir.2003). Specifically, the district court must consider whether:

(1) the expert is qualified to testify competently regarding the matters he intends to address; (2) the methodology by which the expert reaches his conclusions is sufficiently reliable as determined by the sort of inquiry mandated in Daubert; and (3) the testimony assists the trier of fact, through the application of scientific, technical, or specialized expertise, to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.

Id. (citing City of Tuscaloosa v. Harcros Chemicals, Inc., 158 F.3d 548, 562 (11th Cir.1998)). The same standard applies to all expert testimony, including testimony regarding scientific, technical, and other specialized matters. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999).

As noted above, Oregon contends (1) that Dunham is unqualified to testify to the issues in this case and (2) that Dunham's testimony, which allegedly does not utilize a technical, scientific, or other specialized methodology, will be unhelpful to the trier of fact. Each of these arguments will be addressed below.

B. Is Dunham Qualified to Testify?
1. Legal Standard for Expert Witness Qualification

"Rule 702 takes a liberal view of expert witness qualifications." Leathers v. Pfizer, Inc., 233 F.R.D. 687, 692 (N.D.Ga. 2006) (citations omitted). It does not mandate that an expert be recognized as a leading authority in the field in question; instead, it simply requires that he or...

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