Federal courts have long honored the age-old principle of “first come, first served”—when presented with two competing lawsuits involving the same parties in different courts, priority is generally awarded to the first-filed lawsuit with a few, specifically-defined exceptions. In one recent decision, a Massachusetts court shuttered a declaratory judgment plaintiff’s request for resolution of the issue of venue, instead deferring to the Texas court where the defendant had first filed its patent infringement action.
In this dispute, Canon had originally filed a complaint for patent infringement in the Northern District of Texas—claiming that Avigilon infringed five patents relating to video monitoring and associated display technology. Later the same day, Avigilon filed a declaratory judgment action against Canon in the District of Massachusetts for determination that Canon’s patents are invalid and are not being infringed by Avigilon. Canon then filed a motion to transfer the Massachusetts case to Texas, and Avigilon filed an unopposed motion to expedite, asking the Massachusetts court to decide the transfer motion before Avigilon had to file its answer to Canon’s complaint in Texas.
In ruling on the motion to expedite, Judge Talwani framed her decision using the longstanding “first-to-file” rule. Before she could determine whether to transfer the case, Judge Talwani explained that she must decide the preliminary question of “whether this court, as opposed to the [Texas court], should decide the transfer issue.” Because there is no question that Canon’s action in Texas was filed before Avigilon’s action in Massachusetts, Judge Talwani concluded that the first-to-file rule should apply—meaning that the Texas court “is the more appropriate forum for a decision on whether venue is proper in that district and on whether any exceptions to the first-to-file rule apply.” Judge Talwani denied Avigilon’s motion to expedite and stayed the Massachusetts case pending further court order.
Judge Talwani’s order is a succinct reminder to potential litigants that, if a “race to the courthouse” may be on the horizon, the court that receives the first-filed case usually gets the first shot at sorting it all out.
The case is Avigilon Corp. v. Canon, Inc., Civil Action No. 17-cv-11922 (D. Mass.), before Hon. Indira Talwani. A copy of the Court’s order can be found here.