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Delaware Superior Court CCLD Clarifies When a Plaintiff is on Inquiry Notice to Bring a Claim for Limitations Period Purposes

Ocimum Biosolutions (India) Ltd. v. AstraZeneca UK Ltd., C.A. No. N15C-08-168 AML CCLD (Del. Super. Dec. 10, 2019).

Even in circumstances where a statutory limitations period can be tolled, tolling typically will cease once a plaintiff may be charged with inquiry notice of its potential claims. In this dispute brought against the biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca arising out of database subscription arrangement, the Complex Commercial Litigation Division of the Delaware Superior Court held that defendant AstraZeneca was entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiff Ocimum Biosolutions had inquiry notice of its claims for breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets more than three years before commencing suit. 

Defining inquiry notice as knowledge of facts that “effectively must rise to the level of a ‘red flag’ that would prompt a prudent person of ordinary intelligence to further investigate a possible claim,” the Court reasoned that information and deposition testimony adduced through discovery supported finding that plaintiff was on inquiry notice that AstraZeneca had wrongfully retained data after the parties’ agreement had ended more than three years before filing suit. In reaching this conclusion, the Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument premised on such cases as Incyte Corp. v. Flexus Biosciences, Inc., 2017 WL 7803923 (Del. Super. Nov. 1, 2017), that plaintiff merely possessed a suspicion of a claim more than three years before filing suit and that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether any further investigation would have revealed a sufficient factual basis to plead a cause of action at that time. The Court explained that, unlike the plaintiff in Incyte, the plaintiff here had both suspicions of the defendant’s breach and sufficient facts to plead its claims more than three years before filing the complaint. The Court emphasized that “inquiry notice is not limited to cases in which a plaintiff has full knowledge of all the facts and the existence of a claim; inquiry notice is triggered when a plaintiff has knowledge of sufficient facts to support a claim.”