Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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James-Cornelius sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, alleging that her 17-year-old son, E.J., had suffered dysautonomia, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and other symptoms as a result of receiving three shots of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil®. While there are no records of medical visits between his first and second vaccinations, the records document his medical visits, symptoms, and diagnoses after his third vaccination. The petition identified medical articles hypothesizing that HPV vaccines can cause dysautonomia and POTS and alleged that the increasing severity of his symptoms is “evidence of re-challenge” and that the pattern of worsening reactions is “strongly probative of a causal relationship” between the vaccine and E.J.’s symptoms, some of which were listed as potential Gardasil® side effects.James-Cornelius unsuccessfully attempted to obtain medical records relating to urgent care visits that she believed occurred before E.J.’s second vaccination. She eventually dismissed her petition, explaining that “she [would] likely be unable to prove" entitlement to compensation. James-Cornelius sought $17,111.12 in attorneys’ fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. 300aa-15(e)(1), asserting that she had filed her petition in good faith and with a reasonable basis. . The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of the petition. The Special Master failed to consider relevant objective evidence. E.J.’s medical records support for James-Cornelius’s reasonable basis claim even without an express medical opinion on causation. The Special Master erroneously concluded that petitioners’ affidavits are categorically “not ‘objective" for evaluating reasonable basis. View "James-Cornelius v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Graham served in the Marine Corps from 1967-1970 and has been receiving disability compensation benefits since 2001. The VA regional office (RO) informed Graham in 2009 that authorities had identified him as a fugitive felon and the subject of an outstanding warrant issued in 1992. That warrant was withdrawn in February 2009. In May 2009, the RO issued a rating decision that retroactively discontinued Graham’s compensation from December 2001 through February 2009, due to his then-fugitive felon status, and informed Graham that he had been improperly paid $199,158.70 and that his monthly compensation would be partially withheld to pay back the debt.Graham appointed Gumpenberger as his representative on appeal and signed a direct-pay agreement stating that Gumpenberger’s fee would be “20 percent of all past-due benefits awarded … as a result of winning … as provided in 38 C.F.R. 14.636.” In 2013, the Board reversed the RO’s debt ruling, finding that Graham was not a fugitive felon for VA purposes because he had never been aware of the outstanding warrant. The VA had recouped $65,464 from Graham’s monthly benefits. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed the RO’s determination that Gumpenberger was entitled to a fee of $13,092.80. Although the total debt invalidated was $199,158.70, the past-due benefit, per 38 U.S.C. 5904(d)(1), being awarded was $65,464. View "Gumpenberger v. Wilkie" on Justia Law

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Cottingham sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-10, alleging that a Gardasil® vaccination received by her minor daughter, K.C., in 2012, for the prevention of HPV, caused K.C. injuries. The claim was filed immediately before the limitations period ran out.The government stated argued that a "reasonable basis for bringing the case may not be present.” Cottingham’s counsel was granted additional time but was unable to submit an expert opinion supporting her claim. The Special Master denied compensation. Cottingham sought attorneys’ fees and litigation costs ($11,468.77), 42 U.S.C. 300aa-15(e)(1). The Master found no evidence to support the "vaguely asserted claims" that the vaccination caused K.C.’s headaches, fainting, or menstrual problems." While remand was pending the Federal Circuit held (Simmons) that although a looming statute of limitations deadline may impact the question of whether good faith existed to bring a claim, that deadline does not provide a reasonable basis for asserting a claim. The Master decided that Simmons did not impact his analysis, applied a “totality of the circumstances” standard, and awarded attorneys’ fees. The Claims Court vacated and affirmed the Special Master’s third decision, finding no reasonable basis for Cottingham’s claim.The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that there is no dispute that Cottingham filed her claim in good faith. Simmons did not abrogate the “totality of the circumstances inquiry.” K.C.’s medical records paired with the Gardasil® package insert constitute circumstantial, objective evidence supporting causation. View "Cottingham v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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Nonprofit organizations that have downloaded public court records via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system brought a class action, alleging that the incurred PACER fees “exceeded the amount that could lawfully be charged” under a note to 28 U.S.C. 1913 because the fees did not reflect the cost of operating PACER alone. Asserting subject-matter jurisdiction under the Little Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346, the plaintiffs sought the “return or refund of the excessive PACER fees.” After denying the government’s motion to dismiss, the district court certified an opt-out class consisting of all individuals and entities who had paid PACER fees, April 21, 2010-April 21, 2016, excluding federal government entities and present class counsel.The Federal Circuit affirmed. The statute authorizes the government to collect a fee for certain purposes. It is alleged that the government collected fees in excess of the statutory authorization, so the “necessary implication” is that the fees can be recovered through an illegal exaction claim. There is no need for a separate express money damages provision in the fee-authorizing statute for a plaintiff to proceed under the Little Tucker Act. The Section 1913 Note limits PACER fees to the amount needed to cover expenses incurred in services providing public access to federal court electronic docketing information. Those fees cannot be used to promote access purely for select entities or individuals. View "National Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Navy began a program to design and build littoral combat ships (LCS) and issued a request for proposals. During the initial phase of the LCS procurement, FastShip met with and discussed a potential hull design with government contractors subject to non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. FastShip was not awarded a contract. FastShip filed an unsuccessful administrative claim, alleging patent infringement. The Claims Court found that the FastShip patents were valid and directly infringed by the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed.The Claims Court awarded FastShip attorney’s fees and expenses ($6,178,288.29); 28 U.S.C. 1498(a), which provides for a fee award to smaller entities that have prevailed on infringement claims, unless the government can show that its position was “substantially justified.” The court concluded that the government’s pre-litigation conduct and litigation positions were not “as a whole” substantially justified. It unreasonable for a government contractor to gather information from FastShip but not to include it as part of the team that was awarded the contract and the Navy took an exceedingly long time to act on FastShip’s administrative claim and did not provide sufficient analysis in denying the claim. The court found the government’s litigation positions unreasonable, including its arguments with respect to one document and its reliance on the testimony of its expert to prove obviousness despite his “extraordinary skill.” The Federal Circuit vacated. Reliance on this pre-litigation conduct in the fee analysis was an error. View "FastShip, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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ECT sued ShoppersChoice for infringement of its 261 patent, directed “to systems and methods that notify a party of travel status associated with one or more mobile things. ShoppersChoice challenged claim 11 as patent-ineligible, 35 U.S.C. 101. ShoppersChoice moved to join a patent eligibility hearing set in a parallel lawsuit, in which ECT alleged claim 11 infringement against other companies. The court conducted a consolidated hearing and invalidated claim 11 as directed to the abstract idea of providing advance notification of the pickup or delivery of a mobile thing. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that “the claim only entails applying longstanding commercial practices using generic computer components and technology.” ShoppersChoice sought attorney fees, citing evidence that ECT sent standardized demand letters and filed repeat infringement actions to obtain low-value “license fees” and force settlements. Before the court ruled, a California District Court awarded attorney fees against ECT in another case related to the patent.The Federal Circuit vacated a holding that the case was not exceptional. A pattern of litigation abuses characterized by the repeated filing of patent infringement actions for the sole purpose of forcing settlements, with no intention of testing the merits of one’s claims, is relevant to a district court’s exceptional case determination. The court clearly erred by failing to consider the objective unreasonableness of ECT’s alleging infringement of claim 11 against ShoppersChoice. View "Electronic Communication Technologies, LLC v. ShoppersChoice.Com, LLC" on Justia Law

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Munchkin sued LNC for trademark infringement and unfair competition claims based on LNC’s spill-proof drinking containers. A year later, the court allowed Munchkin to amend the complaint to include new trademark infringement claims, trade dress infringement claims, and patent infringement claims based on the 993 patent which is directed to a spill-proof drinking container. While the litigation was ongoing, Munchkin voluntarily dismissed all of its non-patent claims with prejudice. Munchkin’s 993 patent was held unpatentable through an inter partes review initiated by LNC. The Federal Circuit affirmed that Patent Trial and Appeal Board decision; Munchkin then dismissed its patent infringement claims. The district court subsequently granted LNC’s motion for attorney’s fees under 35 U.S.C. 285 and 15 U.S.C. 1117(a), finding the case to be “exceptional” because the trademark and trade dress infringement claims were substantively weak, and Munchkin should have been aware of the substantive weakness of its patent’s validity.The Federal Circuit reversed. LNC’s fee motion insufficiently presented the required facts and analysis needed to establish that Munchkin’s patent, trademark, and trade dress infringement claims were so substantively meritless to render the case exceptional. None of those issues were fully adjudicated before the court on the merits; the district court abused its discretion in granting the motion. View "Munchkin, Inc. v. Luv n' Care, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Almirall markets ACZONE®, a prescription medication used to treat acne. Almirall’s 926 and 219 patents are listed in the FDA Orange Book as claiming ACZONE. Before seeking approval to market a generic version of ACZONE, Amneal sought inter partes review (IPR), challenging claims of the patents. Amneal filed its Abbreviated New Drug Application with the FDA. Almirall sued, alleging infringement of only the 219 patent. Amneal counterclaimed that the 926 patent is invalid and is not infringed. Almirall offered to enter into a covenant-not-to-sue on the 926 patent upon the dismissal of the IPR. With the parties unable to reach a settlement, the underlying IPR on the 926 patent proceeded. The Patent Board found claims of the 926 patent not unpatentable. Amneal appealed but later moved to voluntarily dismiss its appeal.Almirall agreed to the dismissal but argued that Amneal litigated in an unreasonable manner by continuing to pursue the IPR after the covenant-not-to-sue was offered, and Almirall sought removal of the patent from the Orange Book. Almirall sought (35 U.S.C. 285) fees and costs incurred from the date settlement negotiations ended to the date of the IPR trial. The Federal Circuit denied the request. Even if section 285 is not limited to district court proceedings, the plain meaning of its reference to “[t]he court” speaks only to awarding fees incurred during, in close relation to, or as a direct result of, judicial proceedings, not to fees incurred for work in Patent Office proceedings before the court asserted jurisdiction. View "Amneal Pharmaceuticals LLC v. Almirall, LLC" on Justia Law

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Hitkansut owns the patent, entitled “Methods and Apparatus for Stress Relief Using Multiple Energy Sources.” While the application that later issued as that patent was pending, Hitkansut entered into a non-disclosure agreement with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and provided ORNL with a copy of the then-unpublished patent application. ORNL staff prepared research reports, received funding, authored publications, and received awards for research, based upon unauthorized use of the patent. Hitkansut sued ORNL, alleging infringement under 28 U.S.C. 1498. The Claims Court determined that certain claims of the patent were invalid but that other claims were valid and infringed. Although Hitkansut originally sought a royalty between $4.5-$5.6 million, based on a percentage of the research funding obtained by ORNL, the Claims Court awarded $200,000, plus interest, as the hypothetically negotiated cost of an up-front licensing fee. The Federal Circuit affirmed.Hitkansut then sought attorneys’ fees and expenses under 28 U.S.C. 1498(a). The Claims Court awarded $4,387,889.54.The Federal Circuit affirmed. Section 1498(a) provides for the award of attorneys’ fees under certain conditions, unless “the court finds that the position of the United States was substantially justified.” The “position of the United States” in this statutory provision refers to positions taken during litigation and does not encompass pre-litigation conduct by government actors, but the examples of conduct cited by the Claims Court demonstrate that the position of the United States was not substantially justified even under this narrow definition View "Hitkansut LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Dragon sued 10 defendants, alleging patent infringement. Based on petitions by DISH and SXM (collectively, “DISH”), the Board instituted inter partes review (IPR) of the patent. The district court stayed proceedings as to DISH but proceeded as to the other defendants. After the court issued a claim construction order, Dragon, DISH, and the other defendants stipulated to noninfringement as to the accused products. The court entered judgment in favor of all defendants. In the parallel IPR, the Board issued a final decision holding unpatentable all asserted claims.DISH sought attorneys’ fees under 35 U.S.C. 285 and 28 U.S.C. 1927. Before the motions were resolved, Dragon appealed both the judgment of noninfringement and the Board’s decision. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Board’s decision and dismissed the district court appeal as moot. On remand, the district court vacated the judgment of noninfringement as moot but denied DISH’s motions for attorneys’ fees, holding that “success in a different forum is not a basis for attorneys’ fees” in the district court. The Federal Circuit vacated. The judgment of noninfringement was vacated only because DISH successfully invalidated the claims in parallel IPR proceedings, rendering moot Dragon’s infringement action. DISH’s success in obtaining a judgment of noninfringement, although later vacated because of its success in IPR, supports holding that they are prevailing parties. View "Dragon Intellectual Property LLC v. DISH Network LLC" on Justia Law