Legille v. Dann
544 F.2d 1 (1976)

  • Legille filed some patents in Luxembourg on March 6th.  Based on international patent laws, they had one year to file the patents in the US in order to have them approved.
  • Legille’s attorney waited until March 1st of the following year to mail the applications to the US Patent Office (USPTO).
    • Leggille’s attorney sent the application airmail, which normally only takes two days to arrive.  They were expecting the application to get to the USPTO by March 3rd.
  • The USPTO later claimed that they didn’t receive the applications until March 8th, so the patents were denied.
    • USPTO based this claim on the fact that the applications had been date-stamped on arrival with a big “March 8th” stamp.
  • Legille sued for a declaratory judgment that the application had been received by March 6th, and just been mislabeled.
    • There was no direct proof of when the mail was actually received.
    • Legille argued that there should be a presumption of procedural regularity in how the postal service discharges their duties, unless there was evidence to the contrary.
      • It was generally presumed that the post office delivered mail at their regular speed.
    • The USPTO argued that there should be a presumption of procedural regularity in how the USPTO handles incoming applications, unless there was evidence to the contrary.
      • It was generally presumed that administrative agencies such as USPTO stamped their documents correctly.
  • The Trial Court found for Legille in summary judgment.
    • The Trial Court found that the presumption that the post office delivers mail in a timely manner was strong, and could only be rebutted by actual evidence, and not by invoking another presumption.
    • Since the presumption was not effectively rebutted, the case is decided via summary judgment.  No need to ask a jury to weigh the facts.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there was a presumption that mail will get delivered in a timely manner, but that was a rebuttable presumption.
      • Rebuttable presumptions are rules of law attaching to proven evidentiary facts certain procedural consequences as to the opponent’s duty to come forward with other evidence.
      • The presumption is merely to invoke a rule of law compelling the trier of fact to reach a conclusion in the absence of evidence to the contrary.  If the opponent does offer evidence to the contrary, the presumption disappears and the case goes to the factfinder free of any rules.
        • Basically, a presumption is only appropriate if there is no evidence at all that could go against it.  If there is evidence that goes against the presumption, then the presumption goes away.
    • The Appellate Court found that the USPTO’s argument was sufficient to rise to the level of evidence to the contrary.  That meant that there was a question of material fact.  Thus, summary judgment is not warranted.
      • Basically, because both sides had a reasonable argument, it was for a jury to decide who to believe.  Summary judgment is only appropriate when there is no question of material fact.
        • It is not the judge’s job to decide which evidence is best.  He is only to determine that there is (or is not) evidence which could support the positions, and then allow the jury to decide whose is the stronger argument.