In the Crosshairs: District Courts Utilize Gunn to Dismiss Patent-Related Legal Malpractice Claims for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

In an opinion and order dated May 7, 2013, the Honorable Mitchell S. Goldberg of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction a legal malpractice action alleging that a law firm and one of its lawyers (the “Law Firm”) violated certain regulations governing lawyers who practice before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the “USPTO”). In so doing, Judge Goldberg became the latest district court judge to rely upon the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gunn v. Minton to conclude that the federal courts do not possess subject matter jurisdiction to hear legal malpractice actions relating to patent cases.

Lice Lifters, LLC v. Barrack, No. 12-5777 (E.D. Pa.) involved a dispute between Ilene Steinberg and Michele Barrack, each a 50 percent owner of Lice Lifters, a company that provides lice removal services. When they formed Lice Lifters, Steinberg and Barrack entered into an Operating Agreement pursuant to which Steinberg agreed to contribute to the company certain intellectual property; namely, a topical solution and process that Steinberg had developed for the removal of lice. Lice Lifters hired the Law Firm to provide the company with various legal services. Among other things, the Law Firm pursued an application in the USPTO to obtain a patent on the intellectual property.

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