In a trio of decisions, the several members of the Federal Circuit have expressed their disagreement with the court’s expansion of appellate jurisdiction to cover attorney malpractice cases that involve patent law issues.
- Landmark Screens, LLC v. Morgan Lewis & Bockius, LLP (Fed. Cir. 2012)(O’Malley, J., concurring);
- Byrne v. Wood, Herron & Evans, LLP (Fed. Cir. 2012)(O’Malley, J., joined by Wallach, J., dissenting from denial of the petition for en banc rehearing); and
- USPPS, Ltd. v. Avery Dennison Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2012)(O’Malley, J., joined by Mayer, J., concurring).
Attorney malpractice is a state law claim, but the Federal Circuit has (and thus the Federal Courts have) claimed exclusive jurisdiction over many patent prosecution related malpractice claims if the well-pled complaint requires the determination of a substantial issue of patent law.
In Minton v. Gunn, 355 S.W.3d 634 (Tex.2011), the Texas Supreme Court agreed with the Federal Circuit’s extension of jurisdiction, but made an interesting and important statement that Texas courts “are not bound by the holdings of the Federal Circuit.” This situation sets up the need for Supreme Court review. Minton was a 5-3 decision. The dissenting justices argued that state courts should maintain jurisdiction over the case based on its application of the 2005 US Supreme Court case of Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng’g & Mfg., 545 U.S. 308 (2005). In that case, the US Supreme Court held that federalism principles require a cautious and balanced approach to the removal of traditional state court claims to federal court.
The dissent in Minton wrote:
The Federal Circuit’s focus on this mandate [of uniformity] is understandable, but uniformity in patent law is not the be-all and end-all of jurisprudence. It must give way to the contours of federal question jurisdiction provided by the Supreme Court. See Grable. In turn, this Court has its own mandate, of at least equal importance to that of the Federal Circuit. We owe a duty to the people of this state to exercise the judicial power, see Tex. Const. art. V, §§ 1, 3, and that duty includes vital matters such as ensuring consistency and certainty in the civil law of the state, see Tex. Gov’t Code § 22.001, and regulating the practice of law, id. § 81.011(c). Accordingly, we should not risk the confusion and inconsistency that will result from having two sets of binding precedent in Texas legal malpractice law—one stemming from this Court and the other courts of this state, and another, entirely outside of our control after today’s opinion, developing under the direction of the Federal Circuit, largely uninformed by the deep roots of Texas jurisprudence and the requirements of the Texas Constitution.
This Court should not be quick to follow Federal Circuit case law that fails to follow the test set forth by the Supreme Court. Because this case fails to meet three of the four elements required by the Supreme Court for federal-element “arising under” jurisdiction, the court of appeals was correct when it held that exclusive federal patent jurisdiction does not lie here. I therefore respectfully dissent.
In a parallel 2011 case, an Illinois state appellate court held that Magnetek’s claim against Kirkland & Ellis for deficient representation in a patent litigation lawsuit did not arise under patent law. In that case, the court wrote that the largest patent law issue – whether the patent was enforceable or not – had already been decided by a separate court and therefore was not at issue in the case. Magnetek, Inc. v. Kirkland and Ellis, LLP, 954 N.E.2d 803 (Ill.App. 2011).
A petition to the Supreme Court is likely in at least one of these cases.