The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a sua sponte order regarding the impermissibility of incorporating by reference arguments from one brief into another, especially when doing so causes the brief to exceed the permitted word count. Promptu Sys. Corp. v. Comcast Cable Commc’ns, LLC, Case No. 22-1093 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 16, 2024) (Moore, CJ; Prost, Taranto, JJ.) (per curiam).
On January 11, 2024, the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in four related cases involving Promptu and Comcast. During oral argument, the Court asked counsel for the appellee to submit a brief within 10 days, totaling no more than 10 pages, to show why he should not be sanctioned for attempting to incorporate by reference multiple pages – almost 2,000 words – of argument from the brief in one case into another, thereby causing the brief to exceed the word limit.
The Federal Circuit recounted that it has “repeatedly held” that incorporating by reference to exceed word count is not permitted, citing its holdings on this issue in Microsoft v. DataTern (2014) and more recently in Medtronic v. Teleflex Life Sciences (2023). Appellee counsel responded that he was unaware of the Microsoft decision until the appellant’s reply brief had already been filed. The Court accepted his assertion but noted with disapproval that the precedential Microsoft decision admonished “the exact same law firm before us now for the exact same behavior,” and that once made aware of the Microsoft decision, counsel did nothing to remedy the impropriety.
Practice Note: The Federal Circuit did not award sanctions against appellate counsel but sternly warned future litigants that it is improper to incorporate by reference arguments from one brief into another unless in compliance with Fed. R. App. P. 28, and that such incorporation is never permitted if it results in exceeding the applicable word limit. The Court stated that going forward, such a violation “will likely result in [an award of] sanctions.”