(CN) — Hoping to patch its claims over defective bulletproof vests, the U.S. government secured permission to amend its federal complaint against Honeywell International.
At the crux of the 8-year-old case is Z Shield, a bulletproof fortified with panels of a synthetic polymer material called Zylon.
Uncle Sam claims that Honeywell knew that Z Shield had degradation problems inconsistent with its marketing when it sold the product to Armor Holdings, which in turn sold the vests to law-enforcement agencies at various levels of government.
Though the government wanted to inspect Honeywell’s facilities, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson barred that part of discovery last year, nothing that the complaint contained no allegation about the Z Shield manufacturing process.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman agreed Friday that the government should be allowed to add these allegations in an amended complaint.
The new filing will allege that Honeywell knew its water-based resin coating process made Z Shield more likely to degrade in heat and humidity, and that the firm manipulated data to make its product appear to perform much better than it actually does.
Honeywell opposed the motion, arguing that deposing witnesses in the Netherlands and Israel about the new claims would be overly expensive, on top of its 50 past depositions.
Friedman said tough luck.
“While it may be true that Honeywell will decide that it needs such additional fact discovery or that it might like to bolster its expert discovery, whatever burden the water-based coating process amendment occasions on Honeywell is not undue,” the 10-page opinion says (emphasis in original).
Honeywell spokesman Peter Dalpe emphasized that the court battle is far from over.
“We are disappointed with the ruling because the government’s request will only serve to delay bringing this matter to trial, where Honeywell is confident it will ultimately prevail,” Dalpe said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Navas declined to comment on the ruling.
Asserting that the new allegations should not come as a shock, the judge noted that “the United States’ interrogatory responses in 2010 certainly put Honeywell on notice that the United States would be pursuing a water-based coating process allegation, and the extensive discussion of the issue during depositions suggests that any additional discovery on the matter should not be nearly as burdensome as Honeywell suggests.”
New allegations about the coating process will not cause Honeywell “undue prejudice, [but] only the garden-variety prejudice that attends a party sharpening the allegations of the complaint for which it has adduced evidence in discovery,” Friedman added.
The same goes for the new claim that the thermoplastic film that acts as the shield in a Z Shield was fragile, Friedman said, citing that allegation’s appearance in the initial complaint and five depositions.
“The court finds no undue delay with respect to the fragile shield allegation because the United States’ experts only recently were able to reach conclusions that provided a strong basis to amend the complaint,” Friedman wrote.
Friedman noted that the government has summarized the new filing as changing “its theory from ‘Honeywell cherry-picked the warehouse data’ to ‘Honeywell manipulated the warehouse data.'”
The government persuaded Friedman that it did not unjustifiably delay the change since “it was not until recently’ that the evidence of the manipulation ‘came to light from the work of the United States’ experts,’ specifically their review of discovery documents.”
“Honeywell does not rebut this characterization of the relevant timeline or the claim that the United States’ experts reached their conclusion about manipulation of data only recently after reviewing discovery,” the ruling continues.
Attorneys for Honeywell with Kirkland & Ellis did not return an email seeking comment, nor did the Justice Department.
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