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Body Armor Maker Loses Early Bid for Sanctions

(CN) - A magistrate judge in Florida refused to sanction Japanese company Toyobo in an action arising from allegations that it manufactured and sold defective ballistic material used to make bulletproof vests.

The court dismissed two motions for sanctions brought by body armor manufacturer Point Blank Solutions, which claimed Toyobo's answers to its requests for admissions were improper and false.

Point Blank is accusing Toyobo of misrepresenting the quality of a synthetic fiber called Zylon, used by the plaintiff in creating its bulletproof vests.

Toyobo promoted Zylon as a material that could safely be used in manufacturing ballistic resistant vests, despite being aware of Zylon's material defects and knowing the fiber would deteriorate faster than advertised, according to the ruling.

Point Blank sued Toyobo and its American alter-ego, Toyobo America, for fraud, misrepresentation and breach of warranty.

In November 2010, the Southern District of Florida denied Toyobo's motion to dismiss Point Blank's amended complaint, deciding that the body armor maker could seek summary judgment. Two motions for monetary sanctions followed concerning Toyobo's answers to Point Blank's requests for admissions.

The first motion claimed that "Toyobo denied a request to admit that it had knowledge that Point Blank planned to use Zylon for ballistic applications in bullet resistant vests despite internal Toyobo documents and deposition testimony which, Point Blank claims, establish Toyobo's knowledge," the ruling states.

The second motion challenged Toyobo's refusal to admit the authenticity of several documents that Toyobo claimed it did not create.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman denied both motions, finding that "a denial is a perfectly reasonable response" during the discovery process.

Goodman deemed the request for sanctions premature, since monetary relief is usually awarded post-judgment.

The court would have to "conduct a mini-trial and resolve disputed factual issues that are ordinarily resolved before the fact-finder" during a trial, Goodman wrote. (Italics included in ruling.)

The judge concluded that Toyobo's alleged misconduct in response to the admissions requests should be resolved at trial or at summary judgment. The decision was made without hearing oral argument.

"I see no reason why this case should be tried via discovery practice instead of before a judge and jury," he wrote.

Point Blank lost more than $16 million when the National Institute of Justice decertified Zylon for use in body armor in 2005, according to the ruling.

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