Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, Inc. v. Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs
The National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates (NOVA), sought review under 38 U.S.C. 502. The Knee Joint Stability Rule, promulgated in 2018 and set forth in the Veterans Affairs Adjudication Procedures Manual, assigns a joint instability rating under Diagnostic Code (DC) 5257, 38 C.F.R. 4.71a, based on the amount of movement that occurs within the joint. The Knee Replacement Rule provides that evaluation under DC 5055, 38 C.F.R. 4.71a, is not available for partial knee replacement claims. The Replacement Rule was published in the Federal Register in 2015, stating that section 4.71a was amended to explain that “‘prosthetic replacement’ means a total, not a partial, joint replacement.” It was published in a 2016 Manual provision, which informs regional office staff that evaluation under DC 5055 is not available for partial knee replacement claims filed on or after July 16, 2015.The Federal Circuit referred the case for adjudication on the merits. NOVA has standing because it has veteran members who are adversely affected by the Rules. The Manual provision is an interpretive rule reviewable under 38 U.S.C. 502 and constitutes final agency action. The Knee Replacement Rule is a final agency action. The merits panel will determine whether the Manual provision or the Federal Register publication constitutes the reviewable agency action. The challenge is timely under the six-year statute of limitations, 28 U.S.C. 2401(a); Federal Circuit Rule 15(f), establishing a 60-day time limit for bringing section 502 petitions, is invalid. View "National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, Inc. v. Secretary of Veterans' Affairs" on Justia Law
Esparraguera v. Department of the Army
Esparraguera was removed for performance reasons from her position as the Army’s top labor lawyer and placed into another high-level position at the same agency but outside the Senior Executive Service (SES). Federal civil service is divided into the competitive service, the excepted service, and the SES, 5 U.S.C. 2101a, 2102, 2103. . Esparraguera’s request for reconsideration was denied by the Under Secretary. She requested an informal hearing under 5 U.S.C. 3592(a)(2), which entitled her to “appear and present arguments” before an official designated by the Merit Systems Protection Board. By statute, she could not avail herself of the ordinary appellate provisions of the Board. Esparraguera submitted exhibits designated A through UU into evidence and read a prepared statement into the record. The Army neither presented evidence nor objected to the entry of these exhibits. Esparraguera did not expressly ask the Board to review her removal—and it did not. The Board official issued the Order Referring Record, which summarized the proceedings. The Army did not change its decision.Esparraguera argued that she was deprived of constitutionally protected property and liberty interests without due process. The Federal Circuit dismissed her appeal. An “Order Referring Record” is not a “final order or decision” of the Board, as required for appellate jurisdiction. View "Esparraguera v. Department of the Army" on Justia Law
In Re Apple Inc.
Uniloc sued Apple for patent infringement in the Western District of Texas (WDTX). Apple moved to transfer the case to the Northern District of California (NDCA), arguing that it would be clearly more convenient to litigate the case there, 28 U.S.C. 1404(a). Apple moved to stay activity in the case unrelated to its transfer motion. The district court denied the stay motion without explanation, then held a hearing on Apple’s transfer motion and stated that it would deny the motion and issue a written order soon. After the hearing, but before issuing a written order, the court held a Markman hearing, issued its claim construction order, held a discovery hearing regarding protective order, and issued a corresponding discovery order.Apple filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, which the Federal Circuit granted. The “district court barreled ahead on the merits in significant respects” and clearly abused its discretion in denying transfer. The district court erred by failing to meaningfully consider the wealth of important information in NDCA and misapplied the law by giving too much significance to the fact that the inventors and patent prosecutor live closer to WDTX than NDCA and in concluding that judicial economy weighed against transfer because NDCA has more pending cases than WDTX. View "In Re Apple Inc." on Justia Law
In Re Nitro Fluids, L.L.C.
In 2018, Cameron sued Nitro in the Southern District of Texas, where both parties are headquartered, alleging infringement of three of Cameron’s patents. That court has not issued a claim construction ruling and a trial date has not been set. In 2020, Cameron filed this suit against Nitro in the Western District of Texas, alleging that the same accused products infringe two other Cameron patents. The Western District denied a motion to decline jurisdiction or transfer the action, reasoning that when a balance of the 28 U.S.C. 1404(a) transfer factors “does not weigh in favor of transfer" compelling circumstances exist to avoid application of the first-to-file rule. The court concluded that two factors—access to sources of proof and the local interest— favored transfer while the administrative difficulties flowing from court congestion and the practical problems factor weighed against transfer.The Federal Circuit vacated. The district court erred in concluding that the first-to-file rule only applies when the balance of factors favors the first-filed court. Unlike in an ordinary transfer analysis, the focus of the first-to-file rule is to avoid potential interference in the affairs of another court. Requiring that the balance of the transfer factors favor the second-filed court helps to ensure that more compelling concerns exist. The district court erred in not making that adjustment and did not expressly resolve whether balancing the factors favors the second-filed court. View "In Re Nitro Fluids, L.L.C." on Justia Law
Warsaw Orthopedic, Inc. v. Sasso
Under the 1999 Agreement, Medtronic purchased Dr. Sasso's inventions, agreeing to royalty payments based on Medtronic’s sales of the defined Medical Device until “the last to expire of the patents included in Intellectual Property Rights, or if no patent application(s) issue into a patent having valid claim coverage of the Medical Device, then seven (7) years from the Date of First Sale of the Medical Device.” The initial patent application was filed in November 1999; two patents issued, both entitled “Screw Delivery System and Method.” Medtronic made royalty payments in 2002-2018. Sasso claimed that Medtronic was not paying royalties on sales of all relevant devices, and filed suit in Indiana state court. A judgment in Sasso's favor is on appeal.Medtronic sought a federal declaratory judgment. While Sasso describes the state court action as a contract case for payment for patent rights, Medtronic describes the federal action as a patent case in which payment requires valid patents. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit without prejudice, based on abstention in view of the concurrent action in Indiana state court between the same parties concerning the same dispute. District courts possess significant discretion to dismiss or stay claims seeking declaratory relief, even when they have subject matter jurisdiction. View "Warsaw Orthopedic, Inc. v. Sasso" on Justia Law
Sowinski v. California Air Resources Board
In 2015, Dr. Sowinski sued the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and others, alleging infringement of the 033 patent, violation of California elder abuse laws, and violation of California Business & Professions Code 17200. The patent, entitled “Pollution Credit Method Using Electronic Networks,” describes an electronic method and apparatus for validating and trading consumer pollution control tax credits. Sowinski stated that the patent is infringed by California’s Cap-and-Trade Program auctions. Sowinski did not file a response to motions to dismiss. After the period set in the local rules, the district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The Federal Circuit affirmed. In 2018, Sowinski filed suit in the California Superior Court of Orange County, substantially identical to his prior complaint but seeking damages only for infringement after the dismissal. He voluntarily dismissed that action and filed the same complaint in the Northern District of California, stating the same three counts as the first suit. CARB was the only named defendant.The district court dismissed the complaint on the ground of res judicata, observing that the dismissal of the same claims in the prior litigation against the same defendant “was an adjudication on the merits.” The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that res judicata did not apply because the present complaint seeks damages only for infringement that occurred after the conclusion of his prior suits and because the prior suit was resolved on procedural grounds, without reaching the merits of infringement. View "Sowinski v. California Air Resources Board" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure
Security People, Inc. v. Iancu
Security obtained the 180 patent in 2003. After being sued for patent infringement, Security’s competitor sought review of certain claims of the patent in 2015. The Patent Trial and Appeal Board instituted an inter partes review (IPR) and found the sole instituted claim unpatentable. The Federal Circuit summarily affirmed. The Supreme Court then denied a petition for certiorari, which did not raise any constitutional arguments.Security then sought a declaratory judgment that the retroactive application of an IPR proceeding to cancel claims of its patent violated its due process rights. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The America Invents Act, 35 U.S.C. 319, 141(c), provides for “broad Federal Circuit review” of the Board’s final written decisions and allows for review “only” in the Federal Circuit. The court concluded Congress intended to preclude district court review of Board decisions under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Federal Circuit affirmed. Congress foreclosed the possibility of collateral APA review of IPR decisions by district courts. Security cannot bring an APA challenge when the statutory scheme separately establishes an adequate judicial remedy for its constitutional challenge. The APA authorizes judicial review of final agency actions only if there is no other adequate remedy. View "Security People, Inc. v. Iancu" on Justia Law
National Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States
Nonprofit organizations that have downloaded public court records via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system brought a class action, alleging that the incurred PACER fees “exceeded the amount that could lawfully be charged” under a note to 28 U.S.C. 1913 because the fees did not reflect the cost of operating PACER alone. Asserting subject-matter jurisdiction under the Little Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346, the plaintiffs sought the “return or refund of the excessive PACER fees.” After denying the government’s motion to dismiss, the district court certified an opt-out class consisting of all individuals and entities who had paid PACER fees, April 21, 2010-April 21, 2016, excluding federal government entities and present class counsel.The Federal Circuit affirmed. The statute authorizes the government to collect a fee for certain purposes. It is alleged that the government collected fees in excess of the statutory authorization, so the “necessary implication” is that the fees can be recovered through an illegal exaction claim. There is no need for a separate express money damages provision in the fee-authorizing statute for a plaintiff to proceed under the Little Tucker Act. The Section 1913 Note limits PACER fees to the amount needed to cover expenses incurred in services providing public access to federal court electronic docketing information. Those fees cannot be used to promote access purely for select entities or individuals. View "National Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States" on Justia Law
Gensetix, Inc. v. Baylor College of Medicine
Decker developed the patented inventions while employed at the University of Texas and assigned the patents to UT. Gensetix obtained an exclusive license in the patents. The license agreement provides that, Gensetix must enforce the patents. The parties agreed to cooperate in any infringement suit and that nothing in the agreement would waive UT's sovereign immunity. Gensetix sued Baylor, alleging infringement and requested that UT join as a co-plaintiff. UT declined. Gensetix named UT as an involuntary plaintiff under FRCP 19(a). The district court dismissed, finding that UT is a sovereign state entity, so that the Eleventh Amendment barred joinder of UT, and that the suit could not proceed without UT.The Federal Circuit affirmed in part. UT did not voluntarily invoke federal jurisdiction; the Eleventh Amendment prevents “the indignity of subjecting a State to the coercive process of judicial tribunals” against its will. It is irrelevant that the license agreement requires the initiation of an infringement suit by Gensetix or cooperation by UT. The court erred in dismissing the suit without adequate analysis of Rule 19(b)'s factors: the extent to which a judgment might prejudice the missing required party or the existing parties; the extent to which any prejudice could be lessened; whether a judgment rendered in the required party’s absence would be adequate; and whether the plaintiff would have an adequate remedy if the action were dismissed. View "Gensetix, Inc. v. Baylor College of Medicine" on Justia Law
Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Apple, Inc.
Uniloc filed patent infringement actions against Apple, which moved to dismiss, arguing that Uniloc had granted its creditor a license with the right to sublicense in the event of a Uniloc default. According to Apple, Uniloc had defaulted and “lacked the right to exclude Apple from using the patents.” Apple’s motion referenced material that Uniloc had designated as highly confidential. Uniloc asked the court to seal most of the materials in the parties’ filings, including citations to case law, quotations from published opinions, and 23 entire exhibits, including matters of public record. The court denied that motion. Uniloc sought reconsideration, stating that it was willing to make public more than 90 percent of the material it had originally sought to shield; it submitted a declaration including individual grounds for redacting or sealing the remaining materials and declarations from third-party licensees that disclosure would cause them significant competitive harm. The court denied Uniloc’s motion.The Federal Circuit affirmed with respect to Uniloc’s requests to seal its purportedly confidential information and that of its related entities and vacated with respect to licensees. In denying Uniloc’s “sweeping motion,” the court sent a strong message that litigants should submit narrow, well-supported sealing requests and “took seriously the presumption of public access.” The court failed to make sufficient findings on balancing the public’s right of access against the interests of the third parties in shielding their financial and licensing information from public view. View "Uniloc 2017 LLC v. Apple, Inc." on Justia Law