FARGO — A federal judge in Fargo has dismissed a lawsuit that claimed Caterpillar, an international machinery company, committed fraud that allegedly resulted in a West Fargo inventor losing his patent.
In a 15-page order, Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal dismissed Ernie and Gail Brookins’ lawsuit on Jan. 29 because they failed to state a plausible claim in the case. Ernie Brookins, who invented a hydraulic clutch that powers vehicles with pressure instead of using fuel, alleged Caterpillar stole his patent by making false statements to the federal government.
A fraud claim requires two parties to have a contract, and one of those parties must try to invalidate that contract, Senechal wrote in her order.
“There are two deficiencies in the Brookins’ fraud claim: One, there was no contract between the parties, and two, the Brookins do not seek to invalidate any contract,” Senechal wrote.
The dispute between the West Fargo couple and Caterpillar dates back to 2016, when Ernie Brookins sued the Illinois-based company, alleging it stole his patent.
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Ernie Brookins lost the patent in 2018 after Caterpillar filed a claim that the paperwork was invalid, resulting in the dismissal of that case and three other cases. The couple filed one last lawsuit alleging Caterpillar lied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
During a Nov. 8 hearing regarding the motion to dismiss, Caterpillar attorneys argued the couple were trying to “game the system” by repeating claims made in past cases. They argued the couple never signed a contract with Caterpillar, meaning fraud was not explicitly committed against the couple because false statements were not made to them.
The couple argued that they and Caterpillar had an implied contract based on statements contained in documents, but Senechal disagreed.
“Those documents, however, reflect no more than a possible intent to engage in settlement discussions,” Senechal wrote. “They do not satisfy elements of an enforceable contract.”
Caterpillar and Ernie and Gail Brookins did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday, Feb. 4.