Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals

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Sneed is the surviving spouse of Reginald, who served on active duty 1964-1968 and suffered service-connected disabilities, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, post-concussion syndrome, degeneration of the vertebrae, narrowing of the spinal column, tinnitus, a perforated tympanic membrane, and scarring of the upper extremities. In 2001, Reginald fell and suffered a spinal cord contusion, rendering him a quadriplegic. In 2003, he was living in a nursing home for paralyzed veterans. There was a fire and all of the residents died of smoke inhalation. Sneed sought dependency and indemnity compensation, 38 U.S.C. 1310, alleging that her husband’s service-connected disabilities were a cause of his death. The VA denied the claim. The Board affirmed. Sneed’s notice of appeal was due by August 3, 2011. Sneed retained attorney Eagle, communicated with Eagle’s office “for a year or longer” and stated that “Eagle knew that there was a deadline.” On August 2, 2011 Sneed received a letter stating that Eagle would not represent Sneed in her appeal. Failing to find new counsel, Sneed filed notice of appeal on September 1, 2011, with a letter explaining her late filing. The Veterans Court dismissed the appeal as untimely. The Federal Circuit vacated, holding that attorney abandonment can justify equitably tolling the deadline for filing an appeal. View "Sneed v. Shinseki" on Justia Law

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Smith was disbarred by the Tenth Circuit in 1996, followed by reciprocal disbarments by the Fifth Circuit, the U.S. District of Colorado and Northern District of Texas, and the Colorado Supreme Court. In 2007, the Tenth Circuit granted reinstatement, provided that Smith met conditions. The conditions were satisfied, and Smith was reinstated. The other courts then readmitted him to their bars, except the Colorado Supreme Court. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado then reversed itself and denied reinstatement, because Smith remained disbarred by the Colorado Supreme Court. The Tenth Circuit affirmed. Smith filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims, seeking compensation and equitable relief, alleging violations substantive and procedural due process and of equal protection, and judicial takings of his private property right to practice law and make a living. The Claims Court dismissed, reasoning that absent a money-mandating statute providing for compensation for such government action, it had no jurisdiction and that because the revocation actions became final no later than 1999, suit under the Tucker Act was barred by the six-year limitations period, 28 U.S.C. 2501.. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Smith v. United States" on Justia Law

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The two patents in suit relate to systems for minimizing the cost of placing long-distance telephone calls. Mediatrix manufactures and sells equipment that modifies existing telephone systems to convert them to voice-over-Internet-protocol systems. Over the course of infringement litigation, plaintiff (RTI) was ordered on four separate occasions to respond to a specific contention interrogatory propounded by Mediatrix: “Separately for each claim of the Patents-in-suit that [RTI] contends is infringed, state the basis for that contention, including without limitation, identification on an element-by-element basis of the component, structure, feature, functionality, method or process of each accused Mediatrix product that allegedly satisfies each element.” A magistrate determined that RTI never adequately responded to the interrogatory and that the failure to comply with the court’s orders was willful, and recommended dismissing the case and imposing monetary sanctions against RTI’s attorney, Hicks, and RTI in the amount of $86,965.81, to be split evenly between them. The district court adopted the recommendation. Hicks appealed the monetary sanction. RTI did not appeal. The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Rates Tech., Inc. v. Mediatrix Telecom, Inc." on Justia Law

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LG took a license from Wi-LAN’s predecessor for a patent concerning V-chip technology for ratings-based blocking of television programs. LG subsequently claimed that it owed no royalties because its televisions did not practice Wi-LAN’s technology. Wi-LAN forwarded to LG a letter written by outside counsel (Townsend), naming Wi-LAN’s general counsel and vice president, as addressee. It was marked “CONFIDENTIAL” and contained analysis of Wi-LAN’s patent rights as applied to LG’s technology, opining that LG was practicing Wi-LAN’s technology and owed royalties. Wi-LAN’s disclosure of the letter was an intentional effort to convince LG to revise its position and pay royalties. Wi-LAN later sued for patent infringement, identifying Townsend as litigation counsel. LG served a subpoena on Townsend for documents and testimony relating to the subject matter of the letter, claiming that any privilege was absolutely waived by voluntary disclosure of the letter. Townsend unsuccessfully argued that any waiver should be limited to the letter. The district court found Townsend in contempt, and entered sanctions in the amount of LG’s costs and fees. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded. The district court erred by rejecting considerations of fairness: whether LG would be unfairly prejudiced by assertion of privilege beyond the four corners of the letter. View "Wi-LAN, Inc. v. LG Elecs., Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as an airplane mechanic, in the Navy and for several airlines. In the 1960s, he devised a tool that could reach deep inside airplane engines without disassembling external components. In 2000, a patent issued to plaintiff for the extended reach pliers, based on an application written and prosecuted by defendant. Danaher, a customer of plaintiff's business, subsequently developed its own version of the ERP and began competing against the device. Plaintiff sued for malpractice, alleging that the patent was so negligently drafted that it offered no meaningful protection against infringers. Its expert proposed alternate claim language that allegedly could have been enforced against Danaher. The district court granted defendant summary judgment, based on the element of causation. The Federal Circuit affirmed. Plaintiff did not raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to the patentability of its alternate claims. Plaintiff failed to raise a single material fact in dispute as to the nonobviousness of the proposed alternate claims. View "Minkin v. Gibbons, P.C." on Justia Law

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Landmark invented an LED billboard and retained Kohler to file a patent application. Kohler filed the 096 application. USPTO indicated that the application contained multiple inventions. Kohler pursued two claims and withdrew others, intending that withdrawn claims would be pursued in divisional applications, to benefit from the 096 filing date. Kohler submitted an incomplete (916) divisional application, not using a postcard receipt to enable prompt notification of deficiencies. Months later, PTO issued notice of incomplete application. Kohler had changed firms. The anniversary of the 096 application’s publication passed; the 096 application became prior art against the 916 application under 35 U.S.C. 102(b). The attorneys did not immediately notify Landmark. Their petition to grant the 916 application an earlier filing date was dismissed. Landmark eventually filed suit alleging malpractice, negligence, and breach of fiduciary duty and reached a partial settlement. The state court dismissed remaining claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Landmark filed the same claims in federal court, adding claims for breach of contract and fraud. The district court dismissed all except the fraud claim under a one-year limitations period and later dismissed the fraud claim under a three-year limitations period. The Federal Circuit reversed. Under California equitable tolling law, the state law fraud claim was timely filed. View "Landmark Screens, L.L.C. v. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, L.L.P" on Justia Law

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In 1999 Beasley filed a patent application for personalized postage stamps. In 2001 the PTO issued notice of allowance. Beasley then entered into a licensing agreement with Avery, specifying that Avery would assume responsibility for prosecution of the patent application and would pay patent prosecution expenses. Beasley appointed Renner to prosecute his application. A Renner attorney filed a supplemental information disclosure statement concerning prior art references. The PTO issued a second notice of allowance. Beasley transferred ownership USPPS. USPPS and Avery entered into an agreement. Later, the PTO vacated its notice of allowance and issued final rejections. Beasley and USPPS alleged that Avery mismanaged the application. Beasley’s suit for was dismissed for lack of standing. USPPS filed suit, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and fraud, based on Avery’s alleged representation that Beasley was the client of Renner. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants. The Fifth Circuit transferred to the Federal Circuit, finding that jurisdiction was based, in part, on 28 U.S.C. 1338 and that the alleged malpractice involves a question of patentability, even if no patent actually issued. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that it had jurisdiction and that the complaint was untimely. View "USPPS, Ltd. v. Avery Dennison Corp." on Justia Law

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During World War II, the U.S. contracted with oil companies for the production of aviation fuel, which resulted in production of hazardous waste. The waste was dumped at the California McColl site. Several decades later, the oil companies were held liable for cleanup costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, and sought reimbursement from the government based on the contracts. The district court entered summary judgment on liability, finding that the contracts contained open ended indemnification agreements and encompassed costs for CERLCA cleanup, and awarded $87,344,345.70. The trial judge subsequently discovered that his wife had inherited 97.59 shares of stock in a parent to two of the oil companies. The judge ultimately vacated his summary judgment rulings; severed two companies from the suit and directed the clerk to reassign their claims to a different judge; reinstated his prior decisions with respect to two remaining companies; and entered judgment against the government ($68,849,505). The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded for reassignment to another judge. The judge was required to recuse himself under 28 U.S.C. 455(b)(4) and the error was not harmless. View "Shell Oil Co. v. United States" on Justia Law