The Location of Witnesses and Relevant Evidence Still Reigns Supreme in Venue Decisions

| Katherine R. McMorrowHans L. Mayer

In Re: Juniper Networks, Inc.

Before Lourie, Bryson, and Taranto. Per Curiam. On Petition for Writ of Mandamus to the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Summary: A party’s relatively insignificant presence in a forum is an insufficient reason to deny transfer when the majority of witnesses and relevant evidence are in the desired venue.

WSOU Investments LLC (“Brazos”) sued Juniper in the Western District of Texas for patent infringement. Juniper moved to transfer venue to the Northern District of California under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) based on the fact that its headquarters and relevant operations are in Sunnyvale, CA and its argument that Brazos conducted little to no business in the Western District of Texas. Specifically, Juniper argued that Brazos described itself as a “patent assertion entity,” had only recently opened an office in Texas, had only one of its officers in Texas, had two of its officers, its CEO, and its president in California, and that the agreement assigning to Brazos much of its patent portfolio listed a California address for Brazos. Brazos countered that it had two employees in the Western District of Texas office and Juniper had a small office in the Western District of Texas as well. However, Juniper represented that its Texas office had no involvement with the accused products and that office was closed shortly after the action was filed.

District Judge Albright denied the motion for transfer, finding Jupiter failed to “sufficiently differentiate[]” exactly where relevant documents were located, neither party claimed witnesses were unwilling to testify, the convenience of witnesses is entitled to little weight given the parties’ control over their witnesses, both parties had business in the Western District of Texas, Juniper failed to show the accused product development occurred entirely in the Northern District of California, and the court in the Western District of Texas would reach trial more quickly than the California court.

The Federal Circuit vacated Judge Albright’s Order, finding an abuse of discretion, and directed transfer to the Northern District of California under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The Federal Circuit reaffirmed that the convenience of witnesses, whether party witnesses or not, is “probably the single most important factor” in the analysis, and in this case 11 witnesses were in California while only one was in Texas. The Court also held Juniper’s general presence in Texas was not enough to establish a local interest when the majority of the relevant evidence was in California, the fact that some evidence might be in neither forum does not weigh against transfer, and Brazos’s presence in Texas appeared recent, “relatively insubstantial,” and looked like forum shopping. Finally, the Court held that court congestion, not aggressive scheduling, was a relevant, though speculative, consideration, but the Western District of Texas and the Northern District of California showed no significant differences in time-to-trial statistics, and as a patent assertion entity Brazos did not have a threatened market position requiring quick resolution.

Editor: Paul Stewart