September 27, 2021 - Last Week in the Federal Circuit

Last Week in the Federal Circuit (September 20-24): Venue, Venue, Venue

Although the Federal Circuit didn’t issue a lot of precedential decisions last week, it continued the recent trend of venue transfer decisions out of the Western District of Texas. Below we provide our usual weekly statistics and our case of the week—our highly subjective selection based on whatever case piqued our interest.

Precedential opinions: 1

Non-precedential opinions: 7

Rule 36: 0

Longest pending case from argument: Athey v. United States, No. 20-2291 (104 days)

Shortest (non-Rule 36) pending case from argument: In re: Cirba Inc., No. 21-154 (19 days)

Case of the week: In re Juniper Networks, Inc., 2021-160, September 24, 2021

Panel: Judges Lourie, Bryson, and Taranto, in an unsigned, per curiam decision

You should read this case if: you have a matter involving a request for change of venue.

Our latest case of the week “is a very close cousin” of two other Federal Circuit decisions where Judge Albright was ordered to transfer cases from his Waco courtroom to California. In this latest case, the plaintiff, referred to here as “Brazos,” filed several complaints in the Waco Division of the Western District of Texas. Brazos alleged that Juniper, a Delaware corporation headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, infringed its patents. Juniper moved to transfer the case for convenience under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) to the Northern District of California. The district court acknowledged that the suits could have been brought in the transferee district but nonetheless denied transfer. In the district court’s view, Juniper had not established that the Northern District of California was a “clearly more convenient forum” for this litigation.

The Federal Circuit reversed. It concluded that the “district court committed legal errors”: “several of the most important factors bearing on the transfer decision in this case strongly favor the transferee court, and no factor favors retaining the case in the transferor court.” First, Juniper argued that the allegedly infringing products were developed in Northern California, and many of its potential witnesses were there. Juniper identified 11 potential witnesses in Northern California, compared to one Brazos employee who was in, or near, the Western District of Texas. The Federal Circuit noted that the district court “clearly erred in not giving sufficient weight to the relative convenience of the transferee forum for the potential witnesses, particularly in light of the striking imbalance in the parties’ respective presentations on this factor.”

Second, the Federal Circuit concluded that the district court also erred in applying the local interest factor. It reasoned that the transferee venue has a greater localized interest in the dispute, favoring transfer. After all, the events forming the basis for Brazos’s infringement claims occurred mainly in the Northern District of California; none occurred in the Western District of Texas. The Federal Circuit held that the district court was wrong to emphasize Juniper’s general presence in Texas (i.e., small office in Austin). That presence was untethered to the lawsuit. Brazos’s presence in Waco was also unconvincing, because such “recent and ephemeral” presence in the transferor forum should be given little or no weight.

Third, the Federal Circuit concluded that the district court erred in its assessment of the availability of sources of proof. According to the Federal Circuit, the district court should have weighed that factor in favor of transfer based on the difference between the two competing venues with respect to the sources of proof.

Fourth, the Federal Circuit held that the district court erred in finding that the potential need for recourse to compulsory process weighed against transfer. Because no party expressly identified any witness as unwilling to testify, this factor was neutral at best.

And last, the Federal Circuit was unconvinced by the district court’s reasoning that a faster median time to trial in Texas favored non-transfer. The Court reiterated its view that the district court congestion factor is “the ‘most speculative’ of the factors bearing on the transfer decision” and generally entitled to little weight. That was especially true here, it explained, because Brazos doesn’t make products covered by the patents and had failed to show any need for quick resolution. Thus, even “if the district court’s projection of the likely time to trial in the two venues is accurate, the court did not point to any reason that a more rapid disposition of the case that might be available in Texas is worthy of important weight.”

Based on these considerations, the Federal Circuit granted Juniper’s petition for a writ of mandamus, vacated the district court’s order denying Juniper’s motion to transfer, and directed it to grant the transfer motion.