Gunn v. Minton Decided- Supreme Court Says Legal Malpractice Belongs in State Courts

/ 21.Feb, 2013

We have been following the progress of Gunn v. Minton as it moved through the courts.  The Supreme Court of the United States has now issued its opinion: Gunn v. Minton, No. 11-1118 (U.S., decided February 20, 2013).  The Supreme Court has reversed the Texas Supreme Court, and held that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over a legal malpractice claim arising from a patent dispute.  Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the unanimous Court.

Applying the test we articulated in
Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering
& Mfg., 545 U. S. 308, 314 (2005),
The Court applied the test articulated in Grable & Sons Metal Products, Inc. v. Darue Engineering & Mfg., 545 U. S. 308, 314 (2005), to determine whether the legal malpractice claim “arises under” federal patent law for the purposes of removal.  Under Grable, the court held federal jurisdiction over a state law claim will lie if a federal issue is: (1) necessarily raised, (2) actually disputed, (3) substantial, and (4) capable of resolution in federal court without disrupting the federal-state balance approved by Congress.  The Court acknowledged that resolution of a federal patent question was “necessary” to the legal malpractice case, and that the federal issue was also “actually disputed.”  The Supreme Court  found it was on the third prong of the Grable test the argument failed.  The court found that because “of the backward looking nature of the legal malpractice claim” the question was purely a hypothetical and would never change the “real-world” result of federal patent litigation.  The court noted that as patent jurisdiction is exclusively endowed in the federal system, even if a state court addresses a novel issue of patent law, the result would not be binding on a subsequent federal court considering the issue.
As a result of this decision, it is unlikely that legal malpractice cases going forward will be removed to federal courts simply because the resolution includes issues of federal law.