by David Hricik, Mercer Law School
Judge Albright granted Google’s motion to transfer venue under 28 U.S.C. 1404(a) from the Western District of Texas to the Northern District of California in an opinion in Motion Offense LLC v. Google, LLC (here). Transfer is governed by regional circuit law, and so here, the law of the Fifth Circuit. What is interesting is the judge noting that the only reason transfer was granted is that the Federal Circuit had reached conclusions different from the Fifth Circuit on what Fifth Circuit law was.
First, one factor in determining whether the transferee venue is more convenient is whether process will be needed to compel testimony and so, if a witness is more than 100 miles from the courthouse, the witness is beyond subpoena power. Thus, if transfer makes it easier to compel more witnesses to testify, that indicates the transferee forum is more convenient. Judge Albright noted that under Fifth Circuit precedent, the party seeking to transfer has the burden to show there are witnesses and they are unwilling and so transfer will aid in compelling testimony; but unpublished Federal Circuit cases “applying” Fifth Circuit law, say the opposite: unless there is a showing a witness is willing to testify, the court presumes they are not.
Second, the location of documents and volume of them in the transferee district indicates the transferee district is more convenient. Under Fifth Circuit precedent, the party seeking to transfer has the burden to show the presence of documents, not just that it’s likely they exist, but under the Federal Circuit’s approach, there is a presumption the accused infringer has more relevant documents.
Third, the Fifth Circuit uses a 100 mile rule to determine convenience of the parties and witnesses for trial: the more such people within 100 miles of the transferee courthouse, the more likely it is more convenient. But, the Federal Circuit instructed not to follow this approach, according to Judge Albright.
The opinion is interesting for a variety of reasons, and I haven’t done my independent look at the cases to see if the opinion fairly characterizes the difference between the Fifth Circuit’s precedent and what the Federal Circuit says is the Fifth Circuit’s precedent, but, plainly, unpublished decisions by the Federal Circuit about Fifth Circuit law can not bind a district court in the Fifth Circuit when it is bound to follow regional circuit law, just as those opinions cannot bind a panel of the Federal Circuit.