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TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 8-11-17 featuring J. Devlin Hartline
Featuring J. Devlin Hartline
August 11, 2017

On May 22, 2017, the Supreme Court decided TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC,  a dispute over the proper venue for a patent infringement suit.  Section 1400(b) of the patent venue statute states in relevant part that a civil action for patent infringement may be brought in the judicial district “where the defendant resides.”  In the 1957 case Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Prods. Corp, the Supreme Court held that for purposes of section 1400(b) a domestic corporation “resides” only in its State of incorporation--a narrower understanding of corporate “residence” than that applicable under section 1391 of the general venue statute.  Under section 1391, a corporate defendant is typically deemed to reside in any judicial district where it is subject to the court’s “personal jurisdiction” with respect to the civil action in question.

TC Heartland LLC (Heartland) is organized under Indiana law and headquartered there. Kraft Food Brands LLC (Kraft) sued Heartland in federal district court in Delaware (where Kraft is organized), alleging that products Heartland shipped to Delaware infringed on Kraft’s patents for similar products. Heartland moved to dismiss the claim or transfer venue to Indiana, arguing that it did not reside in Delaware for purposes of section 1400(b).  The district court rejected these arguments and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied mandamus relief, because its circuit precedent had concluded that more recent statutory amendments to section 1391 had effectively superseded the Fourco interpretation of “reside” in section 1400(b) and thus the broader understanding expressed in section 1391 now applied to section 1400(b) too.

By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Federal Circuit and remanded the case. In an opinion by Justice Thomas, the Court held that the amendments to section 1391 did not modify the meaning of section 1400(b) as interpreted in Fourco; as applied to domestic corporations, “residence” for purposes of section 1400(b) still refers only to the state of incorporation.  All other members of the Court joined in Justice Thomas’ opinion except Justice Gorsuch, who took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

And now, to discuss the case, we have J. Devlin Hartline, who is Director, Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property (CPIP) and Adjunct Professor, Antonin Scalia Law School, George Mason University.

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