Happy New Year! 2021 begins as 2020 ended: mostly without jury trials. Some are determined to change that, however, which brings us to the latest in the saga of Judge Alan Albright’s US District Court for the Western District of Texas case, which we covered immediately below (and elsewhere).
When we left off, Judge Albright had retransferred the case for trial purposes from Austin to Waco so that he could hold a jury trial in January. The defendant had petitioned the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for mandamus to stop the trial. We noted that “the panel could grant the petition without addressing whether trials should be held in the current environment.” And in fact, that is exactly what happened. On December 23, the Federal Circuit found that Judge Albright had incorrectly applied the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit standard for retransfer under 28 USC § 1404 and lacked the inherent authority to retransfer. But then, the Federal Circuit wrote:
In granting mandamus, we do not hold that the district court lacks the ability to effectuate holding trial in the Waco Division. We only hold that it must effectuate such result under appropriate statutory authority, such as moving the entire action to the Waco Division after concluding, based on the traditional factors bearing on a § 1404(a) analysis, that “unanticipated post-transfer events frustrated the original purpose for transfer” of the case from Waco to Austin originally. In re Cragar Indus., Inc., 706 F.2d 503, 505 (5th Cir. 1983). Such analysis should take into account the reasons of convenience that caused the earlier transfer to the Austin division.
The Federal Circuit’s analysis includes no discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back in the trial court, the same day the Federal Circuit granted mandamus, the plaintiff filed an emergency renewed motion for retransfer so that the trial could be held in January. Defendant opposed, arguing, among other things, that this is a patent case in which only money damages are sought that was filed only in April 2019, so there is no urgency to try it. Judge Albright set a December 30 hearing, in which he indicated he would again order a transfer to Waco. The defendant indicated it would again seek mandamus, and Judge Albright agreed to postpone jury selection until February to give the Federal Circuit time to rule. On January 4, 2021, the defendant filed its latest mandamus petition, along with a motion to stay. The motion to stay lays heavily into public interest factors. However, the Federal Circuit has put the motion and the petition itself on the same briefing schedule, which could allow it to again grant the petition without addressing the underlying question of whether a jury trial should be helpful in the current circumstances.