Extraordinary Writ or Ordinary Remedy? Mandamus at the Federal Circuit

65 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2022 Last revised: 19 Dec 2022

See all articles by Jonas Anderson

Jonas Anderson

University of Utah, SJQ College of Law

Paul R. Gugliuzza

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Jason Rantanen

University of Iowa - College of Law

Date Written: December 19, 2022

Abstract

Ordinarily, in federal court, only case-ending judgments can be appealed. The writ of mandamus is one exception to that so-called final judgment rule. Mandamus permits a litigant who is dissatisfied with a lower court ruling to obtain immediate reversal if, among other things, the ruling was indisputably wrong and the party seeking mandamus has no other way to get relief. This exacting standard stems from mandamus’s origin as one of the common law’s “extraordinary” writs. Federal courts of appeals typically issue mandamus once or twice per year at most.

In patent cases, however, mandamus is a remarkably ordinary form of appellate relief. As the empirical study presented by this article shows, in the past thirteen years, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which hears all patent appeals nationwide, has issued mandamus sixty-one times, granting 22% of the mandamus petitions it has received in cases pending in the federal district courts (61 of 283).

Crucially, the Federal Circuit’s high grant rate is driven almost entirely by mandamus petitions in cases from two judicial districts, the Eastern and Western Districts of Texas, on a single legal issue, transfer of venue. On transfer-related petitions arising from those courts, the Federal Circuit has granted the extraordinary writ of mandamus an astonishing 37.3% of the time (in 38 of 102 cases) since 2008. And this after having never granted a transfer-related mandamus petition before that year.

The Federal Circuit, with its semi-specialized jurisdiction over patent cases and a few other areas, is often criticized for taking an “exceptionalist” approach to procedural issues in patent litigation. It is tempting to lob that critique at the Federal Circuit’s aberrant mandamus practice, too. We argue, however, that the court’s high grant rate actually stems from systematic flaws in the patent litigation system that the Federal Circuit has little power to fix—namely, rules of venue and judicial case assignment that encourage plaintiffs to shop not just for favorable district courts, but for individual district judges. Addressing the underlying problem of judge shopping—as the Western District of Texas has finally begun to do—would likely help bring the Federal Circuit’s mandamus practice into the mainstream.

Keywords: patent law, civil procedure, jurisdiction, mandamus

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Jonas and Gugliuzza, Paul R. and Rantanen, Jason, Extraordinary Writ or Ordinary Remedy? Mandamus at the Federal Circuit (December 19, 2022). Washington University Law Review, Vol. 100, p. 327, 2022, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2022-06, U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2022-28, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4049186 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4049186

Jonas Anderson

University of Utah, SJQ College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

Paul R. Gugliuzza (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

Jason Rantanen

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Melrose and Byington
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States

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