A Petition for Mandamus is Not an “Appeal”

In re Arunachalam, 812 F.3d 290 (3d Cir. 2016).  A pro se plaintiff in related patent infringement cases in the District of Delaware sought to disqualify the District Judge.  When that motion was denied, plaintiff filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the Third Circuit.  Yesterday, however, the Third Circuit ruled in a per curiam opinion that the court lacked jurisdiction over the petition, and transferred it instead to the Federal Circuit.

The court stated that while denial of disqualification is reviewable by mandamus, a court’s authority to issue a writ of mandamus “extends only to situations in which doing so would be ‘in aid of’ [its] jurisdiction,” citing 28 U.S.C. §1651(a).  But the Federal Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over any appeal that might be taken from final decisions in these cases.  For that reason, as the Third Circuit observed, other Courts of Appeal, including the Federal Circuit, had concluded that only the Federal Circuit has jurisdiction to consider a petition for mandamus in patent infringement cases.  The Third Circuit also cited opinions in analogous situations involving other specialized proceedings.

Plaintiff argued that the Third Circuit had jurisdiction because “the residual jurisdictional statute,” 28 U.S.C. §1294(1), states that, in general, “appeals from reviewable decisions of the district … shall be taken … to the court of appeals for the circuit embracing the district” in which the case is pending.  But “the residual jurisdictional statute applies by its terms only to ‘appeals,’ and a mandamus proceeding is not an ‘appeal.'”

Alternatively, though the court noted that it could consider the mandamus petition to be a notice of appeal, doing so would not salvage plaintiff’s situation.  The mandamus petition would have been untimely if construed as a notice of appeal, and in any event, the denial of a motion to disqualify is not an immediately appealable order.  Accordingly, the Third Circuit transferred the petition for mandamus to the Federal Circuit.