Copied right, but not copyright.

copyright_symbol_9The plaintiff in GlobeRanger Corp. v. Software AG won a $15 million judgment for misappropriation of trade secrets. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding:

  1. After a thorough review of Circuit precedent – not all entirely consistent – “that GlobeRanger’s trade secret misappropriation claim requires establishing an additional element than what is required to make out a copyright violation: that the protected information was taken via improper means or breach of a confidential relationship. Because the state tort provides substantially different protection than copyright law, it is not preempted.”
  2. Recognizing the “jurisdictional Catch-22” created by that ruling, and referring back to an earlier panel opinion from the time of the case’s removal: “As the complaint [then] alleged only conversion of intangible property for which there is equivalency between the rights protected under that state tort and federal copyright law, complete preemption converted the conversion claim into one brought under the Copyright Act that supported federal question jurisdiction at the time of removal and supplemental jurisdiction after it was dismissed.”
  3. Found that GlobeRanger had offered sufficient evidence of: (1) what specifically constituted its claimed trade secrets; (2) whether Software AG acquired trade secrets improperly or with notice of impropriety, particularly in light of federal contracting regulations; and (3) whether Software AG “used” any trade secret.

The opinion concluded with an unfortunately apt observation about the business litigation that is the focus of this blog: “This case demonstrates the unfortunate complexity of much of modern civil litigation. A trial involving a single cause of action—misappropriation of trade secrets (plus a derivate conspiracy claim)—has resulted in an appeal raising numerous issues that span the lifecycle of the lawsuit: jurisdiction; preemption; federal contracting regulations; expert testimony on damages; and jury instructions.

A removal that ran the red light

red light cameraThe plaintiff in Watson v. City of Allen sued, in Texas state court, several Texas cities about the operation of their “red light camera” programs.No. 15-10732 (May 5, 2016). The cities removed based on his RICO claim and CAFA. Plaintiff then dropped the RICO claim and sought remand based on CAFA’s “local controversy” and “home state” exceptions. The district court kept the case, finding it untimely as to CAFA, finding supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims, and dismissing many claims for lack of standing. The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding:

  1. The 30-day deadline in 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) does not apply to CAFA mandatory abstention provisions, since it “does not deprive federal courts of subject matter jurisdiction, but rather, acts as a limitation upon the exercise of jurisdiction granted by CAFA.”
  2. The CAFA motion was filed within a reasonable time of removal, when “[a]ll indications are that [Plaintiff] acted diligently to gather evidence,” and because “fifty-two days is simply not a very long time.”
  3. TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_SmallThe “home state” exception applied because “[t]his suit’s primary thrust is an attempt to declare unconstitutional red light camera scheme,” meaning that the State of Texas and its municipalities were the “primary defendants,” and not the companies hired to carry out the program.
  4. The district court should have declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, since “Texas courts have a strong interest” in the remaining issues and the plaintiff’s “motion to amend . . . to delete the federal claims is not a particularly egregious form of forum manipulation, if it is manipulation at all.”

Federal Question 101.

Venable had a heart attack on a drilling barge; he and its owner agreed to settle for $350,000.  The Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation initially indicated its agreement, but withdrew consent when it became evident that he would need a heart transplant.  Venable v. Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Corporation, No. 12-30965 (Dec. 30, 2013).  Litigation ensued as to whether the LWCC could rely upon section 933 of LHWCA, which gives a carrier such as LWCC a veto right with substantial procedural safeguards.  The Fifth Circuit reversed summary judgment for Venable.  After a thorough and succinct review of the black-letter law on federal question jurisdiction, the Court found that section 933 gave the LWCC a defensive right that did not implicate Venable’s “well-pleaded complaint.”  It also found that the tentative nature of the LWCC’s alleged consent foreclosed ancillary jurisdiction over the claimed settlement under Kokonnen v. Guardian Life, 511 U.S. 375 (1994).

Ancillary Arbitration

As part of a complicated battle about arbitrability and arbitrator selection, a district court ruled: “Plaintiff’s claims are dismissed for resolution by arbitration.”  Later, the district court rejected a challenge to the arbitrator selection process.  Adam Technologies Int’l v. Sutherland Global Services, No. 12-10760 (Sept. 5, 2013).  The panel divided over how to apply Kokkonen v. Guardian Life, 511 U.S. 375 (1994), which held that a court lacked ancillary jurisdiction to hear a dispute about the enforcement of a settlement provision in a dismissed action.  The majority reasoned: “The judgment dismissing [plaintiff’s] initial lawsuit operated, in all practical effect, as the functional equivalent of an order compelling arbitration between these parties.  We conclude that ancillary jurisdiction existed to allow the district court later to evaluate whether the dismissal that allowed the dispute to be taken to arbitration was being thwarted.”  The dissent did not read the district court’s ruling as retaining jurisdiction.    

Gold mines, supplemental jurisdiction, and limitations.

The owner of technology for identifying promising sites for gold mines sued an engineering firm for misusing its confidential information.  Target Strike, Inc. v. Marston & Marston, Inc., No. 12-50221 (April 17, 2013, unpublished).  The Fifth Circuit found it appropriate to exercise jurisdiction after dismissal of the federal claim, when the claim had been litigated for an extended period and the timing of the remand motion seemed tactical “when the judicial tide appeared to turn . . .”  (That holding contrasts with a recent opinion that found an abuse of discretion in not remanding a case once all federal claims were eliminated at an early stage of the proceedings.  Enochs v. Lampasas County, 641 F.3d 155 (5th Cir. 2011) (citing Parker & Parsley v. Dresser Indus., 972 F.2d 580 (5th Cir. 1992))).  The Court went on to find the plaintiff’s claim time-barred because the sites were known to the plaintiff and the defendant’s activity was public.

Magistrate jurisdiction after Stern, in “eight corners” insurance case

In Technical Automation Services Corp. v. Liberty Surplus Ins. Corp. the Court addressed, sua sponte, an issue about the jurisdiction of a U.S. magistrate judge after the Supreme Court’s recent opinion limiting bankruptcy court jurisdiction, Stern v. Marshall, 131 S. Ct. 2594 (2011).  No. 10-20640 (March 5, 2012).  The Court concluded that Stern did not directly overrule the prior Circuit precedent of Puryear v. Ede’s, Ltd., 731 F.2d 1153 (5th Cir. 1984) and held: “[W]e will follow our precedent and continue to hold, until such time as the Supreme Court or our court en banc overrules our precedent, that federal magistrate judges have the constitutional authority to enter final judgments on state-law counterclaims.”  Op. at 12.  On the merits, the Court reversed the lower court’s ruling that an “eight corners” analysis of an insurance coverage issue precluded consideration of a claim of mutual mistake.  Op. at 15.

No supplemental jurisdiction without original jurisdiction

The plaintiff in Arena v. Graybar Electric Company (No. 10-31096, Jan. 25, 2012) asserted a federal claim under the Miller Act (the statute for contractors’ claims on government projects) and related state law claims.  The Court found that failure to comply with a bonding requirement was fatal to the Miller Act claim, and thus to supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims.  The district court allowed an amendment to assert diversity jurisdiction, but the Court remanded for consideration of evidence submitted in response to that amendment that would defeat diversity if credited.   Echoing its recent decision in Enochs v. Lampasas County, 641 F.3d 155 (5th Cir. 2011), which voided a judgment on state law claims after dismisal of the federal claim, the Court reminded: “The court’s reasoning of judicial efficiency to resolve [plaintiff’s] state-law claims comes into play only when jurisdiction is proper.”  Op. at 9.