Print PDF

Seventh Circuit Rule That Cases Are Reassigned to a Different Judge on Remand Applies to the Federal Circuit

July 31, 2006

Decision icon Decision

Last Month at the Federal Circuit - August 2006

Judges: Rader (author), Plager, Prost

[Appealed from: N.D. Ill., Judge Zagel]

In Eolas Technologies, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., No. 06-1238 (Fed. Cir. July 31, 2006), the Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of Microsoft Corporation’s (“Microsoft”) motion to reassign the case to a different judge.

This case dates back to 1999, when Eolas Technologies, Inc. (“Eolas”) sued Microsoft, alleging infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,838,906 (“the ’906 patent”). The jury found that Microsoft infringed claims 1 and 6 of the ’906 patent, and the district court granted JMOL against Microsoft’s defenses. On appeal, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s claim construction and damages analysis, but vacated the JMOL and remanded to the district court. On remand, Microsoft argued that the case should be automatically reassigned to a different judge under Local Rule 40.5. The district court judge denied Microsoft’s motion for reassignment.

The Federal Circuit held that reassignment raises a procedural question not unique to its exclusive jurisdiction. With that consideration and with “a concern for ‘consistency of future trial management,’” the Court held that it must apply regional circuit law; namely, in this case, the Seventh Circuit law controls the reassignment question.

The Seventh Circuit is unique in its treatment of reassignment, expressly setting forth a rule that addresses the issue, Circuit Rule 36. The Federal Circuit interpreted this rule as making reassignment the norm, unless the Seventh Circuit expressly assigns the case back to the same judge on remand. Moreover, the Seventh Circuit’s Rule 36 applies to remands from the Federal Circuit, contrary to Eolas’s arguments. The Federal Circuit found no language in the rule preventing such an application. In addition, when the Federal Circuit applies the law of a regional circuit, “it acts, as best it can, as that regional circuit would when confronted with the same issue.” Slip op. at 6-7. In that situation, the Federal Circuit becomes “this court” referenced in the language of the rule.

Finally, the Federal Circuit held that the language in its opinion that “the district court may reconsider its findings” on remand did not “signal a decision to depart from” Circuit Rule 36 or Local Rule 40.5. Rather, the statement addressed “the district court,” not any particular judge, thereby allowing a different judge to reconsider the findings on appeal.