By Jason Rantanen
In re: Juniper Networks (Panel: Judges Lourie, Bryson, Taranto)
By my count, it’s been over a month and a half since the Federal Circuit issued a decision granting a petition for writ of mandamus arising from the Western District of Texas. (That decision was In re: Hulu on August 2, 2021.) That streak has come to an end, as today the court issued In re: Juniper Networks.
Like other petitions for a writ of mandamus arising from the Western District of Texas, Juniper Networks, Inc.’s petition concerned the denial of a request for transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The case itself involves an assertion of patent infringement by WSOU Investments LLC (referred to as “Brazos”) against Juniper that was filed in the Western District of Texas. Juniper, a Delaware corporation headquartered in Sunnyvale, California (for those who aren’t familiar with the area, that’s Silicon Valley), moved to transfer to the Northern District of California. Judge Albright denied the motion, reasoning that under the four private interest and four public interest factors governing which district is more convenient, Juniper had not established that the Northern District of California was a clearly more convenient forum for this litigation.
The Federal Circuit reversed in a per curium opinion. Under the law of the Fifth Circuit, “a motion to transfer venue pursuant to section 1404(a) should be granted if ‘the movant demonstrates that the transferee venue is clearly more convenient.'” Slip Op. at 6, quoting In re Radmax, Ltd., 720 F.3d 285 (5th Cir. 2013). Here, Judge Albright committed legal errors that required the granting of the petition.
Starting at the top, “the relative convenience for and cost of attendance of witnesses between the two forums is ‘probably the single most important factor in transfer analysis.'” Slip Op. at 7, quoting In re Genentech, Inc., 566 F.3d 1338, 1343 (Fed. Cir. 2009). Here, the district court didn’t give it the appropriate weight, especially since there was a big imbalance in terms of witness convenience. Instead, the district court cited its own prior decisions for giving little weight to the identified witnesses – which was a problem since those propositions had previously been directly rejected by the Federal Circuit.
The district court also erred in its application of the local interest factor. Most of the events forming the basis for Brazos’s infringement claims occurred in the Northern District of California and none occurred in the Western District of Texas. This was enough to give the tranferee court a local interest. Contrary to the district court’s reasoning, Juniper’s lease of a small office in Austin by the defendant for something that had no connection with the accused products wasn’t sufficient to establish a local interest. A company’s general presence in a district are not enough to establish a local interest comparable to the events that gave rise to the suit. Nor was Brazos’s status as a Waco-based entity incorporated in Texas entitled to significant weight: “The office was established only a few months before the complaints against Juniper were filed, and the activities of the office are largely tied to bring lawsuits in that court. Brazos has only two employees who work from Waco, one of whom is its in-house attorney responsible for litigation. The principal officers of Brazos are located in California.” Slip Op. at 10. “We have noted in other mandamus cases that little or no weight should be accorded to a party’s ‘recent and ephemeral’ presence in the transferor forum, such as by establishing an office in order to claim a presence in the district for purposes of litigation.” Id.
The Federal Circuit also concluded that the district court erred in its assessment of the sources of proof and need for compulsory service factors, but the most interesting to me was the the final error that the Federal Circuit identified: the district court’s conclusion that the court-congestion factor weighed against transfer based on Brazos’s assertion that the Texas forum had a faster median time to trial than the California forum. But, the Federal Circuit pointed out, the district judge’s “faster time to trial” statistic was based on scheduled trial dates (my emphasis), i.e.: those set out in Judge Albright’s aggressive scheduling order. In any event, the Federal Circuit concluded that the relative speed with which this case may be brought to trial was not of particular significance, as the “court congestion” factor is the “most speculative of the factors bearing on the transfer decision.” Slip Op. at 14.
Ultimately, the Federal Circuit concluded, this was essentially the same as the recent decisions in Samsung and Hulu, both of involved situations in which several of the most important factors strongly favored the transferee court and no factor favored retaining the case in the transferor court.
As an ending note, the Federal Circuit also denied a petition for a writ of mandamus arising from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in In re: Fermin on the basis that “mandamus relief is not appropriate when a petition fails to seek relief through the normal appeal process.” Here, the petitioner’s prior appeal to the Federal Circuit had been dismissed for lack of subject matter, the petitioner had filed a motion to reconsider at the Veterans’ Court (which the court denied), and had not appealed the Veterans’ Court’s denial of that motion. “Because [the petitioner] here failed to seek review of the Veterans Court’s order by way of a timely filed direct appeal, we must deny his request for this extraordinary relief.” Slip Op. at 2.