For the first time, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit addressed whether appeals of discovery orders ancillary to a patent suit are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The DC Circuit joined its sister circuits and held in the affirmative. Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Förderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. v. Sirius XM Radio Inc., Case No. 22-7001 (DC Cir. Feb. 17, 2023) (Srinivasan, Henderson, JJ., Edwards, Sr. J.)
In February 2017, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Förderung commenced a civil action for patent infringement against Sirius XM Radio in the District of Delaware. During discovery, Fraunhofer subpoenaed for deposition Sirius XM’s former Chief of Marketing Officer, My-Chau Nguyen, a resident of Washington, DC.
After Nguyen failed to appear for her deposition, she filed a motion in the US District Court for the District of Columbia to quash the subpoena. Fraunhofer responded with a cross-motion to compel Nguyen’s deposition and a motion for sanctions. The DC district court denied Nguyen’s motion to quash, ordered her to sit for deposition, found her in contempt for failing to appear for deposition in the first instance, and expressed an intent to award sanctions upon Fraunhofer’s submission of documentation reflecting fees and costs. Fraunhofer appealed to the DC Circuit.
The DC Circuit first addressed whether it had jurisdiction to consider Nguyen’s challenge to the district court’s order compelling her deposition in light of the fact that Nguyen’s deposition had already been taken at the time of appeal. The Court held that Nguyen’s challenge was moot because “[n]umerous courts have held that an appeal from enforcement of a subpoena becomes moot once the party has complied with the subpoena.” Therefore, the Court reasoned that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Nguyen’s subpoena challenge because she had already complied with the subpoena at the time of the appeal.
Next, the Court addressed whether it had jurisdiction to assess the merits of Nguyen’s challenge to the district court’s finding of contempt and intent to award sanctions. The Court determined that it did not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider these issues. The Court explained that because “the underlying litigation between Fraunhofer and Sirius XM in the District of Delaware arises under an Act of Congress relating to patents[,]” Nguyen’s discovery dispute in the DC district court was “ancillary to a patent suit.” The DC Circuit reasoned that only the Federal Circuit is vested with jurisdiction over appeals “arising under . . . any Act of Congress related to patents[.]” (28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1).) Holding similarly to other circuits, the Court concluded that because Nguyen’s discovery dispute was ancillary to a patent matter, the ability to decide the merits of her appeal was solely within the province of the Federal Circuit.
The DC Circuit found that it did not have the authority to transfer Nguyen’s challenges to the Federal Circuit, however. The DC Circuit concluded that it was forced to dismiss rather than transfer because “this appeal could not have been brought in the Federal Circuit at the time when it was noticed in this [C]ourt.” Applying Federal Circuit law, the DC Circuit reasoned that the contempt order and intent to award sanctions were still the subject of an ongoing proceeding—and thus not “final and appealable”—because at the time the appeal was filed, Fraunhofer had not yet submitted documentation of the fees it incurred and an award of sanctions had not yet been entered.