The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to review a Texas Supreme Court decision that found lower courts had erred in ruling on legal malpractice claims arising from patent-infringement litigation on the ground that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over patent-law matters. Gunn v. Minton, No. 11-1118 (U.S., certiorari granted October 5, 2012).
The lower courts had agreed with the attorney-defendants that the matter belonged in state court and granted their motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing on the merits the disappointed client’s claims of legal malpractice for his attorneys’ alleged mishandling of patent-infringement litigation. In a split ruling, the state supreme court determined that the federal patent issue underlying the state legal-malpractice lawsuit was “necessary, disputed, and substantial,” and thus that federal jurisdiction was exclusive. The court relied on the “arising under” federal-question jurisdiction standard established in Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Manufacturing, 545 U.S. 308 (2005), and the Federal Circuit’s application of that standard in reaching its decision.
Thus, the issue presented to the U.S. Supreme Court is whether the Federal Circuit has departed from the Grable standard by holding that “state law legal malpractice claims against trial lawyers for their handling of underlying patent matters come within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts.” Recent divided Federal Circuit rulings on the issue are discussed in issues 34 and 35 of this Bulletin.