Civil Procedure

Patent Law Issue Puts $33M Law Firm Malpractice Case Squarely Into Federal Court

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Vacating a dismissal by a U.S. District Court, an appellate panel has ruled that a patent law issue in a $33 million malpractice claim against a Detroit-based law firm puts the case squarely into federal jurisdiction.

Because at least one of the plaintiff’s claims in Warrior Sports Inc. v. Dickinson Wright requires the court to determine a substantive issue of patent law, the case was properly filed in U.S. District Court, reports the National Law Journal in an article reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.).

Tuesday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit also says that federal court’s jurisdiction is exclusive:

Federal courts, the appellate opinion explains, “have exclusive jurisdiction over state-law legal malpractice actions when the adjudication of the malpractice claim requires the court to address the merits of the plaintiff’s underlying patent infringement lawsuit.” Judge William Bryson authored the ruling, with which Judges Pauline Newman and Sharon Prost joined.

The district court had ruled that the malpractice claims could be adjudicated without referring to federal patent law.

At issue in the malpractice case is a Warrior patent on a scooped lacrosse stick head. When Warrior sought to enforce the patent against a competitor in 2004, the competitor argued that the patent was unenforceable because of alleged inequitable conduct on the part of attorney John Artz, the National Law Journal explains.

Artz & Artz subsequently was acquired by Dickinson Wright, and Warrior initially sued Dickinson Wright in Michigan state court, contending that it had settled with its competitor, STX, over the lacrosse head patent for a lower amount due to the malpractice issue.

When Dickinson Wright challenged the state court’s jurisdiction, the parties agreed to dismiss the case and refile in federal court. The federal court, however, said the case should be in state court, and the appeal followed.

Partner Andrew Kochanowski of Sommers Schwartz argued the case for Warrior on appeal. “We told the federal court we’re really fairly neutral about where the case is; we just want you to rule,” he tells the legal publication.

Dickinson Wright and the firm’s lawyers did not respond to numerous requests for comment, the article says, and Artz, who is a partner in the firm’s Bloomfield Hills, Mich., office, could not be reached for comment.

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