“Courts must give promptly filed transfer motions ‘top priority’ before resolving substantive issues of the case.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) ruled on March 8 that Western District of Texas Judge Alan Albright’s failure to rule on a motion to transfer by Tracfone Wireless, Inc. was “strikingly similar to circumstances from the same district court last month in SK hynix,” which the court ruled amounted to “egregious delay.” Unlike SK hynix, Inc., F. App’x 600 (Fed. Cir. 2021), where the CAFC stopped short of granting a writ of mandamus, here, the petitioner’s writ of mandamus was granted and a stay of proceedings regarding all substantive issues was ordered until a decision is rendered on the motion to transfer.
Transfer Requests Ignored
The order was in response to a petition for writ of mandamus by Tracfone Wireless asking the CAFC to either direct the district court to transfer Precis Group LLC’s patent infringement suit against Tracfone Wireless to the Southern District of Florida, or in the alternative, to direct the district court to stay proceedings in order to rule on the motion to transfer. Precis group responded to the writ of mandamus and took “no position regarding the relief requested.” Precis Group had filed a suit against Tracfone Wireless in April 2020, alleging patent infringement. In response, Tracfone Wireless moved to transfer the case on June 22 and the motion was fully briefed by July 14. Shortly after Tracfone Wireless filed their motion to transfer, the district court issued a scheduling order for discovery, a Markman hearing, and the start of trial. On October 1, Tracfone Wireless motioned the district court to stay all proceedings pending the resolution of its venue motion. By December 21, Tracfone Wireless had still not heard from the court on either the motion to dismiss or the on the motion to transfer and moved for a decision on its motion to transfer before the Markman hearing scheduled for December 29. The district court again failed to rule on Tracfone Wireless’ request and instead conducted the Markman hearing as scheduled. On March 2, 2021, Tracfone Wireless had still not received a ruling on any of its motions and filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the CAFC.
The court noted that this case presented “strikingly similar circumstances” to the SK hynix case last month, which the CAFC held was an “egregious delay and blatant disregard for precedent.” Citing In re Google, No. 2015-138, 2015 WL 5294800 (Fed. Cir. Jul. 16, 2015), the CAFC explained that the trial court’s failure to act on a fully briefed motion for roughly eight months and its decision to proceed with discovery and claim construction “amounted to an arbitrary refusal to consider the merits of the motion.” The CAFC decisions in both Google and SK hynix are supported by the principle “[t]hat district courts must give promptly filed transfer motions ‘top priority’ before resolving substantive issues in the case,” said the court. In re Horseshoe Entm’t 337 F.3d 429 (5th Cir. 2003).
The CAFC granted Tracfone Wireless’ petition for writ of mandamus, which compelled the district court to issue its ruling on the motion to transfer within 30 days and ordered the district court “to stay all proceedings until such time that it issues a ruling on the motion to transfer that provides a basis for its decision that is capable of meaningful appellate review.”