Mandamus Relief Denied – The Latest 1404(a) News from the Federal Circuit
On May 10th, the Federal Circuit denied a writ of mandamus requested by Western Digital Technologies (WDT), which unsuccessfully sought transfer out of the Western District of Texas to the Northern District of California under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). While the Federal Circuit did not explicitly endorse the District Court’s reasoning, it did confirm that the analysis fell short of the threshold required for an appellate override.
The District Court’s February 9 denial of WDT’s transfer motion appears inauspicious for corporate defendants seeking to pull their cases from the Western District of Texas, to the extent there are party or non-party witnesses located in or near the Western District. In the course of its analysis, the District Court emphasized that:
- “Relevant” witnesses pushed the needle on a district’s convenience. Superfluous witnesses do not.
- The court made reference to this limitation in analyzing the Volkswagen factors addressing both the availability of compulsory process and the convenience of witnesses.
- Among the relevant Western District witnesses identified by the plaintiff were a certain distributor/retailer “likely to have highly relevant and unique information that cannot be provided by any one of the other eight distributors” identified by the plaintiff, and a former WDT employee who was “likely the most relevant former employee for the time period that the Accused Product[s] were developed.”
- A difference of 6.9 months in median time to trial is sufficient to weigh against transfer.
- The presence of WDT employees and offices in the Western District neutralized WDT’s claim that infringement was an interest localized in the Northern District of California.
Of course, plaintiffs in patent cases do not have any guarantee that relevant witnesses will be compellable by or conveniently near the Western District, as was the situation here. Which witnesses are relevant depends on the facts of the particular case. However, corporate defendants confront a similar level of uncertainty. Any employee, officer, or even third party compellable by or conveniently near the Western District could be a critical witness. Plaintiffs with the ability to take advantage of the Court’s venue discovery allowances will have the opportunity to flesh out where these critical witnesses are located, as the plaintiff did here. (Of course, Judge Albirght has also made clear that Markman hearings will not proceed while transfer motions are outstanding, so all parties will need to be diligent if they want to preserve the Court’s default schedule.)
Critically, large corporations doing business throughout the United States will likely struggle to distinguish their situations from WDT’s.
The Western District is also likely to maintain a swifter median time to trial than California’s districts. According to publicly available statistics, since 2014, the Western District of Texas has had a faster median time to trial than the average federal district court in California. (source: https://www.uscourts.gov/statistics/table/na/federal-court-management-statistics/2020/12/31-1).
The Federal Circuit might “have evaluated some of the factors differently,” but in the absence of clear legal error, the deferential standard afforded to the District Court is a high hurdle for most parties seeking mandamus relief.
The blog would like to thank Noah Lombardozzi for his contributions to many of the thoughts and research discussed above.