The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed a trade dress infringement award in which the appellant failed to file a post-verdict motion pursuant to either Fed. R. of Civ. P. 50(b) or 59 and instead appealed directly. Belk, Inc. v. Meyer Corp., Case No. 10-1664 (4th Cir., May 8, 2012) (Davis, J.).
Belk, an owner and operator of retail department stores, sells a number of goods, including kitchen appliances and cookware products. Belk had previously sold branded lines of cookware from its former customer, Meyer. In 2007, Belk began selling its own private-label cookware, under a license from the Biltmore Company, the entity owning various trademarks, copyrights and other proprietary rights associated with Biltmore House and Biltmore Estate, the famous private residence in North Carolina (the Biltmore line). When Meyer discovered that Belk was selling the Biltmore line in its stores, it sent Belk a cease-and-desist letter, notifying Belk that it believed the Biltmore line infringed Meyer’s trade dress in the “Anolon Advance” line and rights in design patents pertaining to that line, and that Belk was engaged in false advertising, unfair competition and numerous other commercial torts.
Belk then filed a civil action (in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina) seeking a declaratory judgment that the Biltmore line did not infringe certain Meyer-held patents or Meyer’s trade dress, that certain of Meyer’s patents were not enforceable and that Belk did not engage in false advertising, unfair competition, or commit any commercial torts against Meyer by marketing, advertising and selling the Biltmore line. Meyer responded by filing a civil action against Belk (in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia), alleging claims of patent infringement, trade dress infringement and unfair and deceptive trade practices under state law. Meyer’s later filed action was transferred to the North Carolina district court and consolidated with Belk’s declaratory judgment action.
A jury found that Belk infringed Meyer’s trade dress in the Anolon Advanced line and determined that Meyer suffered $420,000 in damages as a result of Belk’s trade dress infringement. The jury also rendered a verdict in favor of Meyer with respect to Meyer’s claim under North Carolina law for unfair and deceptive trade practices. Based on the jury’s findings, the district court awarded Meyer treble damages, upping the ante to $1.26 million. Belk filed no motion under Rule 50(b) during the post-judgment period permitted by rule, nor did Belk file a motion for a new trial under Rule 59. Instead, Belk appealed to the 4th Circuit.
On appeal, Belk contended, among other things, that the district court erred in denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law because the evidence was insufficient to show trade dress infringement. Meyer moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that Belk’s failure to move post-verdict for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(b) or for a new trial under Rule 59 deprived the 4th Circuit of “jurisdiction” to hear Belk’s appeal or, in the alternative, the power to grant Belk the relief it sought. The 4th Circuit agreed and held that as a result of Meyer’s failure to move pursuant to Rule 50(b), Belk forfeited its sufficiency of the evidence challenge on appeal. The 4th Circuit specifically rejected Belk’s contention that the district court erred in its award of damages. The court reasoned that the judge properly treated an award of profits as damages subject to trebling under North Carolina law.