AT&T’s lawyer just made a major blunder that’s going to cost them $40 million. It seems that the telephone company will have to pay this sum in a patent infringement case as a court document wasn’t read by its lawyers, according to the ruling of an appeals court on Thursday. A deadline was missed by AT&T to appeal for a jury verdict worth $27.5 million along with interest. This verdict was made in favor of Two-Way Media LLC, which had alleged that the telephone company made use of its technology for tracking what people watch when they use streaming video services.
It was a faulty court docket notice that gave rise to the problem as it said that AT&T’s request of sealing some documents had been granted by the trial judge. When the actual order was read, it showed that the company’s request of overturning the jury verdict had been denied by the trial judge and a 30-day clock had been set for the time to make an appeal. No notification had been sent to the telephone company’s lawyers at Sidley Austin when the court notice had been corrected. By the time they realized what the judge had done, the deadline was already over as 51 days had passed.
AT&T said that the incorrect docket entry made the missed deadline an excusable neglect. But, the trial judge was supported by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, who said that the information had been provided to at least 18 lawyers and assistants about the timing of the deadline. Therefore, the request for extending the time period of the appeal was also rejected. In a 2-1 ruling, the appeals panel stated that Orlando Garcia, the District Judge in San Antonio had been within his rights when he had said that it was inexcusable that the multiple counsel of the company hadn’t read the orders they had been given or at the very least they had failed to monitor the docket for any additional rulings or corrections.
As far as AT&T is concerned, the loss of $40 million isn’t even equal to a loss of sales in one day as the last year’s revenue of the company was about $132.4 billion. It is possible for AT&T to ask the panel to reconsider its decision or request to be heard in front of all the active judges. If that doesn’t help, the Supreme Court would be the next stop. In 1998, a default judgment had been left intact by the court against a company that hadn’t responded to a lawsuit as it was lost for more than a month on the desk of a legal assistant.
According to a corporate lawyer, in most cases, the courts are open to saving the day if a key deadline has been missed. However, sympathizing for the telephone company would prove difficult as the ball was dropped by 18 lawyers.
Neither AT&T nor the lawyers at Sidley Austin had anything to say regarding this matter.