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That Stings: Consent to Jurisdiction Must Be Effective at Filing to Invoke Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2)

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, on petition for writ of mandamus, vacated the district court’s transfer order and remanded the transfer to be considered under the clarified parameters of Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(k)(2) and 28 U.S.C. § 1404. In re: Stingray IP Solutions, LLC, Case No. 2023-102 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 9, 2023) (Lourie, Taranto, Stark, JJ.)

Stingray filed patent infringement suits in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against TP-Link, a company headquartered and organized in China. TP-Link moved to transfer to the Central District of California (CDCA) under 28 U.S.C. § 1406 citing an alleged lack of personal jurisdiction that Rule 4(k)(2) did not cure because TP-Link would be amenable to suit in the CDCA. TP-Link also moved for transfer under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The district court granted the motion to transfer under § 1406 based on the rationale that TP-Link was amenable to suit in the CDCA and relying on affirmative reservations made by TP-Link that the CDCA had proper jurisdiction and venue. The district court denied TP-Link’s § 1404(a) motion as moot following the transfer. Stingray filed a mandamus petition asking the Federal Circuit to determine whether TP-Link’s unilateral, post-suit consent to personal jurisdiction in another state defeated application of Rule (4)(k)(2).

The Federal Circuit first determined that mandamus review was appropriate in this case in order to resolve the question of whether a defendant can defeat personal jurisdiction under Rule 4(k)(2) by unilaterally consenting to suit in a different district, a jurisdictional question that has divided district courts. Some district courts have held that personal jurisdiction cannot be established under Rule 4(k)(2) if a defendant states that it is amenable to suit in another state, while others have concluded that defendants must do more than simply designate an alternative forum in order to avoid application of Rule 4(k)(2).

Rule 4(k)(2) was originally introduced to close a loophole where non-resident defendants without minimum contact with any individual state suitable to support jurisdiction, but with sufficient contacts with the United States as a whole, were able to escape jurisdiction in all 50 states. The rule essentially provided that under federal claims, serving a summons or filing a waiver of service could establish personal jurisdiction if the defendant was not subject to a state’s general jurisdiction and exercising jurisdiction would be consistent with the US Constitution and laws.

Here, the case focused on the “negation requirement” of Rule 4(k)(2) where the defendant is not subject to any jurisdiction of a state court. This case addressed the question of whether a defendant’s post-suit, unilateral consent to suit in another state prevents the requirement that a defendant is not subject to a state’s general jurisdiction from being satisfied.

The Federal Circuit determined that the “negation requirement” requires defendants to identify a forum where jurisdiction would have been proper at the time of filing, regardless of consent. The Court determined that therefore a defendant cannot use a “unilateral statement of consent” to [...]

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Dude, Where’s My Venue? Texas Car Dealerships Aren’t Distributor Agents

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit vacated a district court’s denial of motions made by two car distributors to transfer cases out of the Western District of Texas for improper venue, finding that the patent owner failed to establish that franchised car dealerships in the judicial district were agents of the manufacturers for venue purposes under § 1400(b). In re Volkswagen Grp. of Am., Inc., Case Nos. 22-108; -109 (Fed. Cir. Mar. 9, 2022) (Dyk, Reyna, Chen, JJ.) (per curiam).

StratosAudio filed complaints in the Western District of Texas against Volkswagen and Hyundai, asserting infringement of infotainment-related patents. Volkswagen and Hyundai are car distributors incorporated in New Jersey and California, respectively. Both distributors moved to dismiss or transfer their cases for improper venue under § 1406(a). The district court denied the motions, concluding that venue was proper because independently owned Volkswagen and Hyundai car dealerships operated in the district. The district court found that franchise agreements gave the car distributors sufficient control over their respective dealerships such that they constituted regular and established places of business in the district. The district court reached this finding despite the fact that Texas law prohibited direct or indirect operation or control of a franchise by a car manufacturer or distributor. Volkswagen and Hyundai petitioned the Federal Circuit for writ of mandamus to vacate the district court’s order or transfer for improper venue.

The Federal Circuit first considered whether mandamus review was appropriate. The Court explained that it may only issue a writ if the petitioner has no other means adequate to attain the desired relief. In contrast to a motion to transfer to a more convenient venue under § 1404(a), denial of a motion to dismiss or transfer for improper venue under § 1406(a) can be remedied on appeal from final judgment. The Court explained that mandamus relief is therefore only available for a ruling on a § 1406(a) motion where the issue presented doing so is important to “proper judicial administration.” Citing to its ruling in In re. Google LLC, the Court explained that this condition may be met when there are a significant number of district court decisions that adopt conflicting views on a basic legal issue. The Court described the disagreement among district courts over whether independent car dealerships establish venue over vehicle manufacturer and distributors and determined that the situation warranted immediate review.

The Federal Circuit turned to the merits to analyze the factors for determining whether a defendant has a “regular and established place of business” for the purposes of establishing proper venue under 28 U.S.C. § 1400(b). There was no dispute that the car dealerships were physically located in the Western District of Texas, and that the defendants did not have any employees at these locations. The Court thus identified the three operative statutory requirements that StratosAudio had the burden of establishing:

  • Whether the dealerships were the agents of the defendants
  • Whether the dealerships conducted the defendants’ [...]

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