A federal judge in Delaware on Sept. 15 cited the district’s depleted bench as a reason for transferring a patent infringement suit against Apple Inc. to California, saying the case would have put an undue burden on an already overworked court.
The ruling from Judge Mark A. Kearney, visiting from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, came as Delaware’s district court continues to sort through an influx of patent cases following the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 22 ruling in TC Heartland, which tightened the rules defining proper venue. During that time, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware has been operating with just two active judges, after Judges Sue L. Robinson and Gregory M. Sleet announced earlier this year that they would be taking senior status.
Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark has since enlisted a roster of visiting judges to help meet the increased demand. Sources familiar with the nomination process said President Donald Trump is expected to announce his picks sometime this month.
In the unusual case, neither the plaintiff, MEC Resources, nor Apple was incorporated in Delaware. However, Kearney last month denied Apple’s motion to dismiss the case, finding that the presence of a single Apple store in the state was enough to establish proper venue under the venue patent’s second prong.
MEC, a North Dakota company that inherited the case from Prowire, then pushed to transfer the suit on convenience grounds to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, home to Apple’s Cupertino, California, headquarters, where the iPad 4 tablets at the center of the dispute were designed.
Neither side addressed court congestion in arguing the transfer motion, but Kearney said the factor was worth noting, given the court’s diminished ranks.
“This district is now reduced to two active judges, only increasing the number of cases on each judge’s docket here,” he wrote in a 14-page memorandum approving the transfer.
According to the most recent numbers provided by Stark, new patent filings in the district of Delaware have nearly doubled in the three months since TC Heartland, and even more cases are expected to be filed in the fall and winter.
Kearney said in his ruling that the district of Northern California was better equipped to handle the case at a time when resources in Delaware were lacking. According to Kearney, only 6 percent of the cases before the full, 14-judge bench had been pending for more than three years in Northern California, compared to 13 percent in Delaware.
“While visiting judges can assist, we also must manage our busy urban dockets and, as much as we may try, cannot fully mitigate the loss of experienced judges in this district while we await commissions for new district court judges,” he said.
“Given the limited resources, we find it difficult to justly allocate judicial resources in this district to resolve a dispute between California and North Dakota citizens where there is no connection here other than Apple’s single retail location.”
Kearney also wrote that other private and public factors—including the location of evidence, the parties’ forum choice and policy—weighed in favor of transfer.
An attorney for MEC declined to comment on Kearney’s ruling.
Apple was represented by John M. Desmarais, Michael P. Stadnick, Robert C. Harrits, Kerri-Ann Limbeek and Ameet A. Modi of Desmarais and David E. Moore and Bindu Ann Palapura of Potter Anderson & Corroon.
MEC listed George Pazuniak of O’Kelly & Ernst and Robert D. Katz of Katz PLLC as its attorneys on the case.
Apple’s press office did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
The case was captioned MEC Resources v. Apple.