Gunn v. Minton
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Beyond Malpractice Cases: Determining the Existence of Federal Jurisdiction Under Gunn v. Minton

By Joseph M. Lipner and Lauren Wright

Legal malpractice claims belong in state, not federal, court. This might seem self-evident. Claims of legal malpractice arise under state law and (in the absence of diversity jurisdiction) should stay in state courts. But what if the alleged legal malpractice involved claimed mistakes that lawyers made involving deeply federal issues: for example, mistakes involving patent law? What if a critical issue in the case required showing that a certain patent would or would not have issued - a question of federal law? Litigants were bringing such malpractice cases with increasing frequency in federal court, asserting that these malpractice cases arose under federal law because they involved substantial patent issues.

Earlier this year, in Gunn v. Minton, 133 S. Ct. 1059 (Feb. 20, 2013), the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to this practice. The Court granted certiorari to decide the question "whether a state law claim alleging legal malpractice in the handling of a patent case must be brought in federal court." Id. at 1062. The Court answered that question with an unequivocal No. In a unanimous opinion, the Court decided that no federal jurisdiction exists in malpractice cases, even when the cases involve patent law issues. The Court went so far as to say that "we are comfortable concluding that state legal malpractice claims based on underlying patent matters will rarely, if ever, arise under federal patent law....

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