Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Legal Ethics
OneSubsea IP UK Ltd. v. FMC Technologies, Inc.
FMC and OSS own patents that cover structures for subsea oil and gas recovery. OSS sued, alleging that FMC’s Enhanced Vertical Deepwater Tree equipped with FMC’s Retrievable Choke and Flow Module infringed 95 claims across 10 OSS patents. The infringement question in the suit boiled down to whether fluid flows through FMC’s accused device as required by the OSS Patents. Finding that OSS failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether FMC’s accused devices met the “divert” limitations of the OSS Patents, the district court granted FMC summary judgment.FMC sought Attorneys’ Fees and Non-Taxable Costs under 35 U.S.C. 285, which applies to “exceptional cases.” FMC argued that the Markman Order foreclosed any legitimate diverter infringement claims going forward, making OSS’s litigation position on infringement objectively baseless and that the substantive weakness of OSS’s infringement claims is shown by OSS’s failure to produce any admissible evidence. FMC alleged litigation misconduct by OSS as unreasonably prolonging the case.Applying the Supreme Court's “Octane Fitness” test the district court denied FMC’s motion. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting FMC’s arguments that OSS’s case was objectively baseless after the claim construction order and that rejection of OSS’s evidence demonstrated the substantive weakness of OSS’s case. OSS that it had no obligation to revise its litigation strategy just because the Patent Board had invalidated diverter claims in different patents. View "OneSubsea IP UK Ltd. v. FMC Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law
United Cannabis Corp. v. Pure Hemp Collective Inc.
UCANN sued Hemp for infringing its patent, entitled “Cannabis Extracts and Methods of Preparing and Using the Same.” UCANN filed for bankruptcy, which automatically stayed the litigation. After the bankruptcy petition was dismissed, the parties stipulated to the dismissal of the patent case. UCANN’s infringement claims were dismissed with prejudice; Hemp’s invalidity and inequitable conduct counterclaims were dismissed without prejudice.Hemp sought attorney fees under 35 U.S.C. 285, 28 U.S.C. 1927, and the court’s inherent authority, claiming that UCANN’s prosecution counsel had committed inequitable conduct by copying text from a piece of prior art into the specification of the patent and not disclosing it to the Patent and Trademark Office as prior art and UCANN’s litigation counsel purportedly took conflicting positions in its representation of UCANN and another client (the owner of the prior art). Hemp expressly notified the court that it did not seek any further proceedings, including a trial or evidentiary hearing, in connection with its motion. The district court denied the motion based on the existing record.The Federal Circuit affirmed upholding findings that Hemp failed to establish that it is the prevailing party under section 285, that this is an “exceptional” case warranting an attorney’s fee award, or that UCANN’s counsel acted in a vexatious or otherwise unreasonable manner. While Hemp’s position was extremely weak, it was neither “frivolous as filed” nor “frivolous as argued.” View "United Cannabis Corp. v. Pure Hemp Collective Inc." on Justia Law
Crawford v. United States
Crawford served in the U.S. Army and Florida National Guard for two decades. He was discharged in 2011 due to his service-connected PTSD. Crawford’s PTSD began after his second tour of duty in Iraq. The Florida State Surgeons Medical Discharge Review Board (SSMDRB) found Crawford did not meet medical retention standards and that his PTSD was incurred in the line of duty. It recommended a fitness determination by a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB), a prerequisite for medical retirement, 10 U.S.C. 1201. Crawford was not referred to a PEB but was discharged as if his PTSD was not service-related, without medical retirement.Crawford sought correction of his records and retroactive benefits before the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records (ABCMR). Notwithstanding the SSMDRB’s findings and the fact that Crawford was discharged for failure to meet medical retention standards, a doctor opined Crawford met retention standards at the time of his discharge. Crawford filed suit. On the government's motion, the court remanded for a fitness determination and development of the record. On remand, the ABCMR found Crawford was entitled to medical retirement based solely on the evidence available at the time of his separation and granted him complete relief, including the correction of his records and retroactive medical retirement benefits.The Federal Circuit reversed the denial of Crawford’s subsequent motion for attorneys’ fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act. Crawford was a prevailing party. View "Crawford v. United States" on Justia Law
Viterna v. McDonough
Pitts, the surviving spouse of an Army veteran, filed for dependency and indemnity compensation from the VA in 2001. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals affirmed. In 2012, Pitts employed attorney Viterna. Their fee agreement was filed with the VA and provided that Viterna was owed 20% of any past-due benefits Pitts recovered, less certain expenses but applied only to claims for which a notice of disagreement was filed after June 20th, 2007; the NOD covering the 2001 claim was filed in 2005. Viterna asserts that this was an “unintentional drafting error.”In 2014, Viterna secured past-due benefits for Pitts, which related back to the 2005 NOD. The agency refused to pay Viterna 20% of those benefits. The Board affirmed. Before the Veterans Court, Viterna argued that Congress only gave the VA the power to assess whether a fee agreement was valid and if its terms were excessive or unreasonable—not whether the agreement covered the claim at issue.The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit disagreed. There was no qualifying agreement between Viterna and Pitts providing for payment of a fee for the claim in question. The court noted that between 1988-2006, attorneys could only charge fees for representing claimants after the Board’s “final decision.” In 2006, Congress amended 38 U.S.C. 5904, effective June 20th, 2007, to allow attorneys to charge for VA representation as soon as a claimant had filed a NOD seeking review of a regional office decision. View "Viterna v. McDonough" on Justia Law
Health Republic Insurance Co. v. United States
The 2010 ACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act) created a three-year Risk Corridors program with the creation of new health-insurance marketplaces, which presented uncertain risks for participating health-insurance companies. Qualified health-plan issuers (QHP issuers) that offered their products in the new marketplaces were entitled to payments from HHS if they suffered sufficient losses, 42 U.S.C. 18062(b).The government failed to make those payments. QHP issuers sued under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). In two such lawsuits, the Quinn law firm was lead counsel for classes of QHP issuers seeking payments. In the opt-in notices sent to potential class members with court approval, Quinn represented that it would seek attorney’s fees out of any recovery, that it would seek no more than 5% of any judgment or settlement, and that the Claims Court would determine the exact amount by considering how many issuers participated, the amount at issue, and a “lodestar cross-check” (based on hours actually worked). Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in other cases, held that QHP issuers were entitled to collect ACA-promised payments.The Claims Court entered judgments in favor of the classes, totaling about $3.7 billion, then awarded Quinn 5% of the common funds, rejecting objections. The total fee was about $185 million. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Claims Court’s analysis was inconsistent with the class opt-in notices and did not adequately justify the extraordinarily high award. View "Health Republic Insurance Co. v. United States" on Justia Law
Realtime Adaptive Streaming LLC v. Netflix, Inc.
Realtime filed patent infringement actions against Netflix in the District of Delaware. While that action was ongoing, Netflix filed petitions for inter partes review (IPR) and moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing patent ineligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101. Following the institution of the IPR proceedings and a recommendation from the Delaware magistrate finding certain claims ineligible, Realtime voluntarily dismissed the Delaware action—before the district court ruled on the magistrate’s findings. The next day, Realtime reasserted the same patents against Netflix in the Central District of California—despite having previously informed the Delaware court that transferring the Delaware action to the Northern District of California would be an unfair burden on Realtime. Netflix then moved for attorneys’ fees and to transfer the actions back to Delaware. Before a decision on either motion, Realtime again voluntarily dismissed its case.Netflix renewed its motion for attorneys’ fees for the California actions, the Delaware action, and IPR proceedings. The district court awarded fees for both California actions under 35 U.S.C. 285, and, alternatively, the court’s inherent equitable powers. The court declined to award fees for the Delaware action or IPR proceedings The Federal Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees under its inherent equitable powers or in denying fees for the related proceedings The court did not address whether the award satisfies section 285's requirements. View "Realtime Adaptive Streaming LLC v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law
Static Media LLC v. Leader Accessories LLC
Static sued Leader in Wisconsin for infringing its D400 design patent. The parties entered into a court-approved protective order, under which they could designate certain material produced during discovery as “Confidential,” to be used solely for the purpose of the litigation, with disclosure limited to certain people. Outside independent persons retained for the Wisconsin action were bound by the protective order because they were obligated to sign a “Written Assurance.” After the parties agreed to the protective order, Static sent a cease-and-desist letter to OJ, also alleging infringement of the D400 patent. OJ’s attorney, Hecht, contacted Leader’s attorney, Lee; the parties entered into a Joint Defense Agreement.Static sued OJ for infringement in Florida. Lee sent Hecht copies of the protective order and Written Assurance from the Wisconsin action. Hecht signed and returned the Written Assurance to Lee. Lee emailed Hecht deposition transcripts and related exhibits from the Wisconsin action; only a few pages were marked confidential, reminding Hecht to “adhere to the protective order.” During settlement negotiations in the Florida action, Hecht improperly used royalty agreements he obtained from Lee to assess a settlement proposal.The court found Leader and Lee in civil contempt for violating the protective order and ordered Leader to pay Static’s attorney’s fees and a $1,000 sanction. The Federal Circuit reversed. The disclosure was not a clear violation of the protective order. View "Static Media LLC v. Leader Accessories LLC" on Justia Law
Centripetal Networks, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc.
Centripetal sued Cisco for the infringement of 10 patents relating to systems that perform computer networking security functions. Centripetal successfully requested that the case be reassigned to Judge Morgan, who had recently presided over a trial involving related technology and five of the same patents. While the case was pending, Judge Morgan sent the parties an email, stating that the previous day, his assistant had discovered that his wife owned 100 shares of Cisco stock valued at $4,687.99. He stated that the “shares did not and could not have influenced [his] opinion.” The disqualification statute, 28 U.S.C. 455, refers to financial interests held by family members. Centripetal had no objection to the judge’s continuing to preside over the case.Cisco sought recusal. Judge Morgan stated that section 455(b)(4) did not apply because he had not discovered his wife’s interest in Cisco until he had decided “virtually” every issue and that placing the Cisco shares in a blind trust “cured” any conflict, then found that Cisco willfully infringed the asserted claims and awarded Centripetal damages of $755,808,545 (enhanced 2.5 times to $1,889,521,362.50), pre-judgment interest ($13,717,925), and “a running royalty."The Federal Circuit reversed the denial of Cisco’s motion for recusal, vacated all orders and opinions of the court entered on or after August 11, 2020, including the final judgment, and remanded for further proceedings before a different district court judge. View "Centripetal Networks, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc." on Justia Law
Haggart v. United States
The Claims Court certified a class of landowners who owned property along a railroad corridor that was converted to a recreational trail under the National Trails System Act. Denise and Gordon Woodley, who jointly owned property along the railroad, were members of the class seeking just compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The Woodleys challenged a proposed settlement and fee award and won a remand that entitled them to access to certain documents used in the calculations of class member compensation and attorneys’ fees.After approval of a settlement agreement that required payment of compensation to the class under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act, 42 U.S.C. 4654(c), the Woodleys successfully sought attorney’s fees for work performed by counsel they jointly hired. Denise separately sought attorney’s fees for work performed by her attorney-spouse, Gordon, explaining that he was one of her lawyers throughout the proceeding; she also sought to recoup certain expenses. The Claims Court denied the motion, reasoning that pro se litigants cannot recover attorney’s fees and expenses and that Gordon, as a co-plaintiff and joint owner of the property at issue, was pro se and not compensable. The Federal Circuit affirmed in part. Denise is not entitled to attorney’s fees for the legal work performed by her attorney-spouse. The court remanded for a determination of the proper reimbursement, if any, of her claimed expenses. View "Haggart v. United States" on Justia Law
In Re Violation of the Revised Protocols for In-Person Arguments
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Circuit issued administrative orders that prohibited public access to the National Courts Building. When the court resumed allowing counsel in the courthouse for argument in September 2021, it implemented protocols, including “[o]nly arguing counsel and no more than one attendee whose presence is necessary to assist or supervise arguing counsel” were permitted access. All persons entering the building had to complete Form 33C declaring under penalty of perjury that the individual was “scheduled to appear” and that the individual was either fully vaccinated for or received a negative test result for COVID-19 within 48 hours. Arguing counsel also completed Form 33A, certifying that “I am personally responsible for ensuring all individuals attending argument with me" will comply with the protocols.Attorneys unsuccessfully sought permission to bring additional attendees. On the day of their argument, four attorneys proceeded together to the courtroom. The clerk informed special counsel and a non-arguing partner that they could not be in the courtroom. They were escorted out. The attorneys argued that their non-compliance was not intentional and that it was not unreasonable for special counsel and the non-arguing partner to come to court to seek permission to attend the argument.The Federal Circuit did not impose discipline. The court noted that while there was no ambiguity in the instructions, the attorneys expressed earnest remorse, have not previously been accused of misconduct, and this situation has not arisen before. View "In Re Violation of the Revised Protocols for In-Person Arguments" on Justia Law