In re: Juniper Networks, Inc., Appeal No. 2021-160 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 24, 2021)
In this week’s Case of the Week, the Federal Circuit issued its fifth writ of mandamus this year ordering transfer of a patent case out of the Western District of Texas courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Alan D. Albright. (Our write-up of the recent precedential decision in In re Samsung is available here.)
In this case, the Court ordered the transfer of infringement cases brought by non-practicing entity WSOU Investments LLC d/b/a Brazos Licensing and Development (“Brazos”) against petitioner Juniper from the Western District of Texas to the Northern District of California. Brazos’s only presence in the Western District of Texas was a two-person office it had recently opened in Waco for the purpose of filing patent lawsuits, whereas the accused products had been primarily designed, developed, marketed, and sold from Juniper’s headquarters in the Northern District of California. The Court found that in denying Juniper’s transfer motion, Judge Albright again erred in his analysis and weighing of multiple transfer factors under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), including the relative convenience of witnesses, local interests in adjudicating the dispute, the availability of sources of proof, the potential need for compulsory process, and considerations of court congestion.
On the relative convenience of witnesses, Juniper had identified eleven party witnesses located in the Northern District of California, whereas Brazos had identified only one party witness in the Western District of Texas. Reasoning that relatively few witnesses would likely testify at trial and that “party witnesses are generally accorded little weight as they can be compelled by the parties to testify,” the district court found that this factor weighed only slightly in favor of transfer. The Federal Circuit disagreed, pointing out that the relative convenience and cost of attendance of witnesses is “probably the single most important factor in transfer analysis,” that the witness convenience factor is not attenuated when the witnesses are employees of a party, and that the district court’s unfounded speculation that few witnesses would testify was far outweighed by the de minimis showing made by Brazos on the other side of the ledger.
On local interests in adjudicating the dispute, the district court had found that this factor weighed against transfer because Brazos was a Texas corporation with a Waco office, and Juniper had leased a small office in Austin whose business was unrelated to the accused products at issue. The Federal Circuit pointed out that Juniper’s general presence was insufficient to establish a local interest, which “regards not merely the parties’ significant connections to each forum writ large, but rather the significant connections between a particular venue and the events that gave rise to a suit.” (Emphasis in original, internal quote marks omitted.) The Court also held that Brazos’s presence in Texas—which appeared designed to enable it to claim a presence in the district for litigation purposes—was recent, ephemeral, and entitled to little weight. Instead, the Court held that because the events forming the basis for Brazos’s infringement claims occurred mainly in the Northern District of California, that was sufficient to give California a greater localized interest in adjudicating the dispute.
The Federal Circuit also rejected the district court’s conclusion that the availability of sources of proof factor was neutral because Juniper’s showing was “not… specific enough” as to what evidence was located in the Northern District of California, noting that neither party had identified any significant evidence located in the Western District of Texas. The Court also expressed puzzlement at the district court’s determination that potential recourse to compulsory process weighed “slightly against transfer” because neither party had specifically identified any witness that would be unwilling to testify, noting that Juniper had identified several non-party witnesses in the Northern District of California (and Brazos had identified none in the Western District of Texas) such that this factor should have weighed at least slightly in favor of transfer. Finally, the Court rejected the district court’s assessment of relative court congestion (which it characterized as a minor factor in any event) as improperly based only on scheduled trial dates. The Court observed that this data showed only that the Western District of Texas employed aggressive scheduling orders and was not probative of any actual differences in caseload or time-to-trial statistics, which were in fact comparable between the Western District of Texas and the Northern District of California.
Because the “center of gravity of the action was clearly” in the Northern District of California, the Court found that Judge Albright again abused his discretion in denying transfer, and directed the district court to grant Juniper’s transfer motion.
A copy of the opinion can be found here.
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