Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
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
Fitbit, Inc. v. Valencell, Inc.
Valencell’s patent, entitled “Methods and Apparatus for Generating Data Output Containing Physiological and Motion-Related Information,” concerns systems for monitoring information such as blood oxygen level, heart rate, and physical activity. Apple sought inter partes review (IPR) of claims 1–13. The Patent Board instituted review of several claims but denied review of claims 3–5. Fitbit then filed an IPR petition for claims 1, 2, and 6–13 and moved for joinder with Apple’s IPR. The Board granted Fitbit’s petition, terminating Fitbit’s separate proceeding. The Supreme Court then held that all patent claims challenged in an IPR petition must be reviewed by the Board if the petition is granted. The Board re-instituted conducted further proceedings and issued a Final Written Decision, finding claims 1, 2, and 6–13 unpatentable, and claims 3–5 not unpatentable. Following the decision, Apple withdrew from the proceeding. Valencell challenged Fitbit’s right to appeal as to claims 3–5.The Federal Circuit held that Fitbit has a right to appeal but vacated as to claims 3–5. Fitbit’s rights as a joined party apply to the entire proceedings and include the right of appeal, conforming to the statutory purpose of avoiding redundant actions by facilitating consolidation, while preserving statutory rights, including judicial review. The court remanded for review of the patentability of claims 3-5 in light of claims of obviousness. View "Fitbit, Inc. v. Valencell, Inc." on Justia Law
Bank of America Corp. v. United States
In 2009, Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch. In 2013, Merrill Lynch “merged with and into” Bank of America. In 2017, Bank of America filed a complaint, seeking to recover overpaid interest on federal tax underpayments and additional interest on federal tax overpayments arising under 26 U.S.C. 6601 and 6611. The claimed overpayment interest arose from overpayments made by Merrill Lynch. The government moved to sever the Merrill Lynch overpayment interest claims exceeding $10,000 and requested that the district court transfer them to the Court of Federal Claims or, alternatively, dismiss them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Magistrate Judge concluded and the district court affirmed that district courts have “subject matter jurisdiction over overpayment interest claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1346(a)(1).The Federal Circuit vacated. The plain language of section 1346(a)(1) dictates that the term “any sum” refers to amounts that have been previously paid to, or collected by, the IRS, which, overpayment interest “[b]y its nature, . . . is not.” The conclusion that section 1346(a)(1) does not cover overpayment interest claims is consistent with the tax code’s broader statutory scheme; the legislative history does not contradict that conclusion. View "Bank of America Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law
First Mortgage Corp. v. United States
Ginnie Mae (GM), established by 12 U.S.C. 1717(a)(2)(A) to provide stability in the secondary residential mortgage market and promote access to mortgage credit, guarantees mortgage-backed securities (MBS). FMC, a private corporation, was an originator and servicer of government-guaranteed home mortgages and an issuer of MBS in GM’s program. GM learned of FMC actions that constituted the immediate default of the Guaranty Agreements. FMC undertook an investigation and provided the results to GM, while also complying with SEC requests. GM later terminated FMC from its program. The SEC initiated a civil enforcement action, which terminated in a consent agreement, without FMC admitting or denying the allegations but paying disgorgement and penalties. The Consent Agreement provided that it did not affect FMC’s right to take positions in proceedings in which the SEC is not a party but FMC agreed to not take any action or permit any public statement denying any allegation in the SEC complaint FMC later sued, alleging that GM had breached Guaranty Agreements when it terminated FMC from its program and denied violating those Agreements.The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal. FMC’s breach of contract claims are precluded under the doctrine of res judicata. FMC’s action is essentially a collateral attack on the judgment entered in the SEC action. The SEC and GM are in privity for the purposes of precluding FMC’s claims and “successful prosecution of the second action would nullify the initial judgment or would impair rights established in the initial action.” View "First Mortgage Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law