Federal Circuit Directs Magistrate Judge to Decide Motion to Transfer After Long Delay and Substantive Rulings While Motion Was Pending

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recently granted yet another writ of mandamus, this time directing a magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Texas to stay proceedings and decide a motion to transfer that had been pending for over nine months. In re: Google, Inc., 2015-138 (Fed. Cir. July 16, 2015). This decision is a part of a continuing trend, since 2008, of the Federal Circuit taking issue with rulings from the Eastern District of Texas denying transfer motions in patent infringement actions or denying the stay of proceedings in favor of an action pending in another jurisdiction.

Google, Inc., brought the motion to transfer venue to the Northern District of California, three months after being sued by Brite Smart, Corp., in the Texas forum. The court required the parties to proceed with extensive discovery without deciding the transfer motion, including exchanging infringement and invalidity contentions, engaging in depositions, and even conducting a Markman hearing.

Google sought a writ of mandamus, a special interlocutory appeal permitted only in narrow circumstances: “The peremptory writ of mandamus has traditionally been used in federal courts to confine an inferior court to a lawful exercise of its prescribed jurisdiction or to compel it to exercise its authority when it is its duty to do so. Repeated decisions of the Supreme Court have established the rules that mandamus will lie in a proper case to direct a subordinate Federal Court to decide a pending cause.” Johnson v. Rogers, 917 F.2d 1283, 1284–85 (10th Cir. 1990) (internal citation omitted).

A four judge panel of the Federal Circuit noted that, where courts delay in ruling on a request for relief, lengthy deferral of decision can result in a denial of the right to have the request meaningfully considered, and that such delays can frustrate the intent to prevent the waste of judicial resources that undergirds a motion to transfer. While Brite Smart argued that Google was somewhat to blame for the delay, as it had moved to supplement its motion to transfer, the Federal Circuit found the argument very unpersuasive, as the supplement was less than two pages and Google had asked the magistrate judge to deny the request if it would further hold up the decision on the motion.

The Federal Circuit held that, considering the length of delay and the magistrate judge’s order that substantive progress be undertaken in the case, “Google has made a compelling case that the magistrate arbitrarily refused to consider the merits of its transfer motion.” Slip Op. at 3. Therefore, the appellate court directed the magistrate judge to rule on the motion to transfer within thirty days, and to stay all proceedings until the transfer motion is decided. The Federal Circuit duly noted that the lower court was to disregard “any familiarity that it has gained with the underlying litigation due to the progress of the case since the filing of the complaint [as such information] is irrelevant when considering the transfer motion and should not color its decision.” Id.

Christopher H. Strate is a Director in the Gibbons Intellectual Property Department.
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