BladeRoom Group Ltd. v. Emerson Electric Co., No. 19-16583 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Competitors BladeRoom and Emerson began negotiating a sale of BladeRoom to Emerson. They signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). The negotiations fell through. Facebook selected Emerson’s proposal for a data center. BladeRoom sued. Emerson proposed a jury instruction that would have excluded information disclosed or used after August 17, 2013, from its liability for breach of contract, which Emerson argued was the date of the contract’s expiration. The district court agreed that the NDA’s confidentiality obligations did not expire under paragraph 12 of the NDA. The jury found that Emerson breached the NDA and willfully and maliciously misappropriated BladeRoom’s trade secrets and awarded $10 million in lost profits and $20 million in unjust enrichment. The district court later awarded BladeRoom $30 million in punitive damages.
The Ninth Circuit reversed. Paragraph 12’s natural meaning unambiguously terminated the NDA and its confidentiality obligations two years after it was signed. The court treated the district court’s error as an error of jury instruction and addressed issues for consideration on the awards of damages and prejudgment interest should they be determined after a new trial. Under California law, a party cannot collect punitive damages for breach of contract awards. On remand, the district court must take several steps to allocate damages and should consider adopting a more detailed special verdict form.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on December 21, 2021.