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Nix v. Boddy

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

November 19, 2019

NEIMAN NIX, Plaintiff,
v.
KYLE BODDY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROBERT S. LASNIK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on "Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion." Dkt. # 64. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Kyle Boddy, the owner of defendant Driveline Baseball Enterprises, attended plaintiffs baseball training camp in 2008 and stole plaintiffs innovative pitching form/theory and the training system he had developed to teach it to college and professional players. Plaintiff asserts claims of copyright infringement, false advertising, misappropriation of trade secrets, fraud, deceptive and unfair trade practices, unjust enrichment, and conversion against Boddy and his company. Defendants seek dismissal of plaintiff s "trade secret (and other) claims with prejudice" under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Dkt. # 64 at 1.

         Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact that would preclude the entry of judgment as a matter of law. The party seeking summary dismissal of the case "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion" (Celotex Corp. v. Cattett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)) and "citing to particular parts of materials in the record" that show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324. The Court will "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Colony Cove Props., LLC v. City of Carson, 888 F.3d 445, 450 (9th Cir. 2018). Although the Court must reserve for the trier of fact genuine issues regarding credibility, the weight of the evidence, and legitimate inferences, the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position will be insufficient" to avoid judgment. City of Pomona v. SQM N. Am. Corp., 750 F.3d 1036, 1049 (9th Cir. 2014); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Factual disputes whose resolution would not affect the outcome of the suit are irrelevant to the consideration of a motion for summary judgment. S. Cal. Darts Ass'n v. Zaffina, 762 F.3d 921, 925 (9th Cir. 2014). In other words, summary judgment should be granted where the nonmoving party fails to offer evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could return a verdict in its favor. Singh v. Am. Honda Fin. Corp., 925 F.3d 1053, 1071 (9th Cir. 2019).

         Having reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted by the parties and taking the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the Court finds as follows:

         Background

         Plaintiffs career as a professional pitcher was cut short by injury, and he spent years developing a method of pitching that would avoid injury while increasing velocity and accuracy, along with the drill, training routines, and exercises that would enable pitchers to learn his method. Id. at 32-33. Plaintiff calls his invention "the Nix method" and describes it as a way to isolate parts of the pitching motion so that athletes could "learn how to drive the hand in a straight line at the precise moment of pronation to release a pitch, ... to develop each and every single action of a pitch, which is the most important part of the pitch, to stay healthy" Dkt. # 68-1 at 33-34. Plaintiff used common items, such as wrist weights, weighted balls, and high speed cameras, in very specific ways to achieve precise body movements[1] that would not only improve pitching, but safeguard the pitcher's arm. Id. at 7 and 32. According to plaintiff, no one else was utilizing his pitching or teaching methods when he started his training camps in 2006. Id. at 35-36. He realized that he had hit on something of value and needed to protect the methodology as a trade secret. Id. at 34.

         Defendant Boddy began training baseball players, including pitchers, in 2007. Dkt. # 65 at ¶ 2. The following year, he and his business partner attended one of plaintiff s training camps. Id. at ¶ 3. Defendant Boddy contends that he attended the camp to improve his pitching skills for personal use and took nothing from plaintiffs camp for use in his business. Plaintiff, however, points to videos and photos from defendants' social media profiles showing that defendants have copied his evaluative, training, and diagnostic techniques. Plaintiff asserts that defendant Boddy signed and breached an agreement not to share the specialty training methods he learned. Dkt. #68-1 at 19.

         Discussion

         A. Trade Secrets

Under Washington law:
"Trade secret" means information, including a formula, pattern, compilation, program, device, method, technique, or process that: (a) Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use; and (b) Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

RCW 19.108.010(4). Defendants argue that plaintiffs trade secret claim fails as a matter of law because "the Nix method" is too vague to qualify as protectable under the statute, there is no evidence that defendants used anything they learned from plaintiff, and plaintiff failed to take reasonable steps to protect the alleged trade secrets. Each argument is discussed below:

         (1) Protectable Trade Secret

         A plaintiff asserting a misappropriation of trade secret claim bears the burden of proving "that legally protectable secrets exist." Boeing Co. v. Sierracin Corp., 108 Wn.2d 38, 50 (1987). Plaintiff asserts that he has developed a novel method for training pitchers which focuses on incremental body mechanics and movements so that the pitcher can stay healthy while improving velocity and control. The method admittedly incorporates existing equipment and drills, [2] but plaintiff uses them, in conjunction with exercises and training ...


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