Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Hymer imported vehicles into the U.S. from Canada. Customs classified them under Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS) 8703.24.00, which applies a tariff of 2.5% to “motor vehicles principally designed for transporting persons.” Hymer filed a protest, arguing that the entries were entitled to duty-free treatment under HTSUS 9802.00.50 and North American Free Trade Agreement Article 307, “American Goods Returned,” as qualifying goods that reenter the U.S. customs territory after repairs or alterations in Canada or Mexico. Hymer requested that Customs “suspend action on th[e] protest” until the Court of International Trade (CIT) issued a decision in other cases (Pleasure-Way) addressing whether van-based motorhomes—similar to the Hymer vehicles —qualified for preferential tariff treatment. In Pleasure-Way, the Federal Circuit affirmed that HTSUS 9802.00.50 did not apply; the vehicles were liquidated at 2.5%. While Pleasure-Way was pending, a Customs Import Specialist checked “Approved” on Hymer’s Protest Form, which was sent to Hymer without a refund check or any explanations. Later, an Import Specialist updated Customs’ electronic system to reflect that the protest was suspended. Hymer sought an order directing Customs to reliquidate the entries of the vehicles under HTSUS 9802.00.50, asserting CIT jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1581(i)(1) and (i)(4), on grounds that Customs’ failure to provide a refund check constituted unlawfully withheld action under the Administrative Procedure Act. The Federal Circuit reversed CIT's judgment in favor of the government. CIT’s assertion of residual jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1581(i) was improper because a civil action for contesting the denial of protests could have been available under 28 U.S.C. 1581(a), and the remedy provided under 1581(a) is not manifestly inadequate. View "Erwin Hymer Group v. United States" on Justia Law

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The asserted patents were originally assigned to AMD, which later purported to transfer “all right, title and interest” in the patents to Lone Star, with several limitations. For example, Lone Star agreed to only assert the covered patents against “Unlicensed Third Party Entit[ies]” specifically listed in the agreement. New entities can only be added if both parties agree to add them. If Lone Star sues an unlisted entity, AMD has the right, without Lone Star’s approval, to sublicense the covered patents to the unlisted target. AMD can prevent Lone Star from assigning the patents or allowing them to enter the public domain. AMD and its customers can continue to practice the patents; AMD shares in any revenue Lone Star generates from the patents through “monetization efforts." Lone Star sued parties listed as Unlicensed Third Party Entities in the agreement, asserting infringement and alleging that AMD transferred “all right, title, and interest” in the asserted patents to Lone Star. The district court concluded that Lone Star does not own the patents and could not assert them. The Federal Circuit vacated the dismissal, while agreeing that Lone Star cannot assert the patents on its own. The court should not have dismissed the case without considering whether AMD should have been joined (Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. View "Lone Star Silicon Innovations, LLC v. Nanya Technology Corp." on Justia Law

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Presidio's 639 patent describes and claims single-layer ceramic capacitors with certain features. Competitor AVX, which manufactures and sells various electronic components, including capacitors, petitioned for an inter partes review (IPR), under 35 U.S.C. 311−319, of all 21 claims of the 639 patent, asserting obviousness (35 U.S.C. 103). The Patent Trial and Appeal Board instituted a review (35 U.S.C. 314), held claims 13–16 and 18 unpatentable, but held that AVX failed to establish unpatentability of all other claims. Presidio did not appeal the as to the unpatentable claims. AVX appealed as to the upheld claims. Presidio responded to AVX on the merits and argued that AVX lacked Article III standing. The Federal Circuit dismissed the appeal, rejecting AVX’s estoppel and “competitor standing” theories and concluding that AVX lacks standing. A person does not need Article III standing to file an IPR petition and obtain a Board decision, because Article III requirements do not apply to administrative agencies, but AVX has no present or nonspeculative interest in engaging in conduct arguably covered by the patent claims at issue. AVX has not shown that it is engaging in or has nonspeculative plans to engage in, conduct arguably covered by the upheld claims of the patent. View "AVX Corp. v. Presidio Components, Inc." on Justia Law

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PDIC’s patent allegedly covers encoding digital images in the JPEG format. PDIC licensed the patent to Adobe, promising not to sue Adobe or Adobe’s customers for claims arising “in whole or part owing to an Adobe Licensed Product.” PDIC sued Adobe customers, alleging that encoding JPEG images on the customers’ websites infringed its patent. Adobe was allowed to intervene to defend nine customers, asserting that PDIC breached its license agreement. PDIC dismissed the actions in which Adobe had intervened. Adobe unsuccessfully sought "exceptional case" attorneys’ fees, 35 U.S.C. 285, and FRCP 11 sanctions. The court concluded that it could not determine the prevailing party nor "say that PDIC’s pre-suit investigation was inadequate or that any filing was made for any improper purpose.” The court denied in part PDIC’s motion for summary judgment, finding that a reasonable juror could find "that PDIC’s infringement allegations . . . cover the use of Adobe products,” and violated the agreement; it held that Adobe could only collect fees incurred in defending its customers in suits that violated the agreement but could not recover fees incurred in the affirmative breach-of-contract suit. After failed attempts to identify "purely defense fees,” Adobe requested judgment in favor of PDIC. The court reiterated “that there are purely defensive damages that can be proven,” but entered the judgment. The Federal Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. There was no final ruling barring recovery on Adobe’s breach claim. Under New Jersey law, actual damages are not a required element of a breach of contract claim. View "Princeton Digital Image Corp. v. Office Depot Inc." on Justia Law

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PET, a Texas LLC registered to do business throughout Texas, has its registered address in Plano, which is in the Eastern District of Texas. The Banks all have their principal offices or branches or customers in the Northern District of Texas. PET's “sole business is to enforce its intellectual property.” PET’s CEO wrote to each of the Banks, identifying PET’s patents, stating that the Banks are believed to be infringing the patents, and inviting non-exclusive licenses. All the Banks conduct banking business in the Northern District of Texas. All the letters from PET referred to PET’s pending lawsuit against Citizens National Bank in the Eastern District. The Northern District of Texas dismissed the Banks’ declaratory judgment action, reasoning that PET’s contacts with the Northern District did not subject it to personal jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit reversed, finding that PET is subject to personal jurisdiction in the Northern District under 28 U.S.C. 1391: Venue in a multidistrict state. PET “purposefully directed” its charges of infringement to banks conducting banking business in the Northern District. The charges “arise out of or relate to” PET’s patent licensing activities in the Northern District. PET has met the minimum contacts requirement without offense to due process. View "Jack Henry & Associates, Inc.. v. Plano Encryption Technologies, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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Maxchief has its principal place of business in China and distributes one of the plastic tables it manufactures (UT-18) exclusively through Meco, which is located in Tennessee. Meco sells the UT-18 tables to retailers. Wok competes with Maxchief in the market for plastic folding tables, and also has its principal place of business in China. Wok owns patents directed to folding tables. Wok sued Maxchief’s customer, Staples, in the Central District of California, alleging that Staples’ sale of Maxchief’s UT-18 table infringed the Wok patents. Staples requested that Meco defend and indemnify Staples. Meco requested that Maxchief defend and indemnify Meco and Staples. The Staples action is stayed pending the outcome of this case. Maxchief then sued Wok in the Eastern District of Tennessee, seeking declarations of non-infringement or invalidity of all claims of the Wok patents and alleging tortious interference with business relations under Tennessee state law. The district court dismissed the declaratory judgment claim for lack of personal jurisdiction. With respect to the state law tortious interference claim, the district court concluded it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Wok lacked sufficient contacts with the forum state of Tennessee for personal jurisdiction as to both the declaratory judgment claim and the tortious interference claim. View "Maxchief Investments Ltd. v. Wok & Pan, Ind., Inc." on Justia Law

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Kerr was employed by the federal agency since 1980. Following adverse personnel actions, Kerr alleged sex and religious discrimination and retaliation before the agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity office. Kerr subsequently challenged her 2006 removal and the earlier adverse personnel actions before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), citing Title VII and retaliation under the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), 5 U.S.C. 1201. The MSPB indicated that it lacked jurisdiction over the less-serious personnel decisions and gave Kerr the opportunity to present her removal-related claims to the agency’s EEO office or have the MSPB decide them. Kerr chose the EEO office. The MSPB dismissed Kerr’s appeal without prejudice. The EEO office rejected Kerr’s discrimination claims and concluded that the WPA claim was not within its jurisdiction, telling Kerr that she could not appeal the constructive discharge claim to the EEOC, but could either appeal to the MSPB or file suit. Kerr filed suit. On remand from the Ninth Circuit, the government first argued that the court lacked jurisdiction over Kerr’s WPA claim because she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies by MSPB review. The district court dismissed the WPA claim. A jury returned a defense verdict on the discrimination claim. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court denied certiorari. The MSPB rejected Kerr’s request to reopen, concluding that there was neither good cause nor equitable tolling for the untimely filing. The Federal Circuit reversed. Kerr did have a reasonable basis for thinking that the district court was an appropriate forum for all of her claims. The court noted the language of 5 U.S.C. 7702, Tenth Circuit precedent, and that the government did not warn Kerr she would waive her claim by failing to file at the MSPB. Kerr has demonstrated reasonable diligence and there is no prejudice to the agency. View "Kerr v. Merit Systems Protection Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued Oath in the Eastern District of New York, alleging patent infringement. Oath conducts business in New York, but is incorporated in Delaware; it does not have “a regular and established place of business” in the Eastern District as defined in the patent statute venue provision, 28 U.S.C. 1400(b) In 2016, Oath moved under FRCP 12(b)(6) to dismiss for failure to state a claim but did not object to venue. Oath withdrew its motion and filed an answer, admitting the complaint’s venue allegations but expressly reserving the right to challenge venue based upon any change in law, including the Supreme Court’s "TC Heartland" decision. The Supreme Court subsequently issued that decision, holding that, under section 1400(b), “a domestic corporation ‘resides’ only in its State of incorporation,” rejecting Federal Circuit precedent that a domestic corporation “resides” in any judicial district in which the defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction. Oath moved to dismiss. Plaintiffs argued that Oath had waived the venue defense because it was “available” in 2016. The district court agreed. In November 2017, the Federal Circuit held (Micron) that “TC Heartland changed the controlling law ... making the waiver rule ... inapplicable” but that venue rights might be forfeited by delay in asserting them in some circumstances. On reconsideration, the district court again denied Oath’s motion. The Federal Circuit remanded with instructions to either dismiss or transfer the case. The district court provided no analysis of why these circumstances supported a finding of forfeiture under section 1406(b) and erred in failing to apply the Micron precedent. View "In re: Oath Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Missouri River overlies the western boundary of South Dakota's Crow Creek Indian Reservation, established in 1863. Under the Supreme Court’s 1908 “Winters” decision, the creation of a Reservation carries an implied right to unappropriated water “to the extent needed to accomplish the purpose of the reservation.” The Tribe possesses “Winters rights.” The Tribe sued, seeking $200 million in damages for the taking of its water rights. The complaint notes the federal Pick-Sloan flood control project on the River, with construction of the Fort Randall and Big Bend Dams; a 1996 statute that established a trust fund for the Tribe, funded with $27.5 million in hydroelectric-power revenue from Pick-Sloan; a 2012 settlement between the Tribe and the government, unrelated to water rights; and the generally poor economic prospects of the Reservation; it alleged that the government breached its fiduciary duty to “[a]ppropriately manag[e] the natural resources" of the Reservation, 25 U.S.C. 162a(d)(8). The complaint did not allege that the government’s actions deprived the Tribe of sufficient water to fulfill the reservation’s purposes or that those actions would cause the Tribe to lack sufficient water in the future. The Claims Court dismissed, stating that the complaint did not suggest that the Tribe is experiencing a water shortage and that it could not identify an injury "that has yet occurred.” The Federal Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Tribe failed to even allege that it has suffered the requisite injury in fact. View "Crow Creek Sioux Tribe v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1999, Native American farmers sued, alleging that the USDA had discriminated against them with respect to farm loans and other benefits. The court certified a class, including LaBatte, a farmer and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Tribe. Under a settlement, the government would provide a $680 million compensation fund. The Track A claims process was limited to claimants seeking standard payments of $50,000. Track A did not require proof of discrimination. Under Track B, a claimant could seek up to $250,000 by establishing that his treatment by USDA was "less favorable than that accorded a specifically identified, similarly situated white farmer(s),” which could be established “by a credible sworn statement based on personal knowledge by an individual who is not a member of the Claimant’s family.” A "Neutral" would review the record without a hearing; there was no appeal of the decision. LaBatte's Track B claim identified two individuals who had personal knowledge of the USDA’s treatment of similarly-situated white farmers. Both worked for the government's Bureau of Indian Affairs. Before LaBatte could finalize their declarations, the government directed the two not to sign the declarations. The Neutral denied LaBatte’s claim. The Claims Court affirmed the dismissal of LaBatte’s appeal, acknowledging that it had jurisdiction over breach of settlement claims, but concluding that it lacked jurisdiction over LaBatte’s case because LaBatte had, in the Track B process, waived his right to judicial review to challenge the breach of the agreement. The Federal Circuit reversed. There is no language in the agreement that suggests that breach of the agreement would not give rise to a new cause of action. View "LaBatte v. United States" on Justia Law