Series on Venue Shopping and the Eastern District of Texas Part 3

February 1, 2010
Plaintiff-hungry lawyers Gobble Up Eastern District of Texas Patent CasesAs we’ve talked about, there are a few significant reasons why cases are so often taken to Marshall, such as plaintiff-friendly juries, the “rocket docket” and plaintiff-hungry lawyers. As a conclusion to this series, today we’ll just focus on why Marshall is so attractive to plaintiff-hungry lawyers.

P.I to I.P. – A Quick Marshall History Lesson

Marshall’s booming legal community reaches back far. In the late 1800s, Marshall was an active transportation portal to the North, which linked the Texas and Pacific Railway.  During the building of the railroad, many personal-injury lawyers came to Marshall to represent injured workers. In the 20th century, toxic torts and consumer class actions became litigation fodder.  Marshall evolved in time, however, as the New York Times pointed out:

“By the late 1990’s, though, it looked as if the good times were ending for Marshall’s lawyers.  Broad tort reform in the state had limited punitive damages and later capped damages on medical malpractice lawsuits, effectively limiting the fees that lawyers could make.
“In Marshall, an oft-told joke is that the passage of tort reform was when many local lawyers made the trip from P.I. to I.P. — that is, they moved out of personal injury and into intellectual property.”
According to the Boston Globe, the Eastern District’s plaintiff friendly juries have led to “higher than average financial awards” – which has consequently attracted the attention of plaintiff attorneys seeking to cash in on this windfall.  This would allow many plaintiff attorneys taking cases on a contingency basis to maximize the potential financial reward for the risk involved.

Note: Data culled from Administrative Office of US Courts.

Eastern District of Texas Today

As our charted research shows above, although the Eastern District of Texas saw a tremendous increase in filings (see Intellectual Property Case Filings from 2003-2008 Chart above) from 38 in 2003 to more than 300 in 2007-08, no other district saw such an increase. However, that all changed in 2009. From 2009 to date, the number of cases in the Eastern District of Texas has dropped by nearly 25 percent.  This drop may be the result of recent court decisions limiting the ability of parties (and therefore patent trolls) to file in this district where there is no other reason for filing.  In other words, recent decisions requiring more concrete connections to the particular district may be helping to stem the forum shopping. However, at least one commentator has argued that the practical effect of these court decisions is much ado about nothing.

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