CHRONOLOGY OF A FEDERAL COURT CASE
Guiding Clients Through Complex Federal Litigation
While some disputes can be resolved between the parties absent any formal legal action, others require a lawsuit. Intellectual property cases are usually filed in federal court due to federal laws that oversee trademarks, copyrights, and patents.
The federal court system can vary significantly from California state courts and attorneys must be specifically licensed to represent clients in particular federal districts. The federal civil justice system is governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which set out timelines, deadlines, and requirements for every step of the litigation process.
The following is a brief overview of the chronology of a federal court case.
Pleadings are formal documents that a party officially files with a court that set out the party’s basic positions and arguments in the case. Every legal action begins with the filing of a complaint, which states the allegations regarding the infringement of the intellectual property and facts to support those allegations. Notice of the pleadings and court summons must be formally served on the defendant in accordance with specific rules.
Once service is achieved, the defendant will have a certain period of time to reply to the complaint which is usually 21 days. Such a reply can include an answer setting out facts in the defendant’s defense or denying facts in the complaint, motions to dismiss the complaint, and counterclaims against the plaintiff. If the court denies all or even part of a motion to dismiss, the case will proceed.
The court may schedule a case management conference where the attorneys will confer to discuss the schedule for litigation, limits of discovery, and other stipulations of the case. This is also an opportunity to discuss the possibility of mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution to explore whether the case can be resolved without formal litigation. However, if the matter cannot be resolved in an alternative way, the litigation process will continue.
The Discovery Period
Discovery is one of the most time-intensive components of a federal case, as both sides want to gather as much information and evidence as possible from one another to build their claims and defenses. There are many different rules regarding what types of information are discoverable, methods of discovery, limits on discovery, and more.
Discovery can be achieved in different ways, including:
- Interrogatories – This is a formal list of written questions to be answered by the other party. The number and scope of interrogatories are limited by the federal rules, as are the time requirements for responding to interrogatories. These answers are provided under oath and can be used in a case in accordance with the Federal Rules of Evidence.
- Requests for Production – This is a formal request for the other party to provide you with certain documents, electronically stored information (ESI), or types of physical evidence that may be used in a case.
- Depositions – A deposition involves asking questions of witnesses, which they must answer under oath. However, unlike witness testimony at trial, depositions happen outside the courtroom and the rules of evidence are less stringently applied. Depositions can be used to learn information from witnesses and to challenge any contradicting testimony at trial. They are also used if the witness will not be available for trial.
- Experts – Many intellectual property claims involve expert opinions regarding technical matters to prove infringement occurred—such as the similarities between two trademarks to prove trademark infringement. Experts can also give opinions on the economic effects of infringement and such analysis is discoverable information.
Motions for Summary Judgment
Typically when the discovery period ends is when a party files a Motion for Summary Judgment. Such a motion can end the case at least to particular issues, and as such can be effective to limit the issues at trial.
Settlement negotiations can take place at any time during litigation. Sometimes, all it takes is the filing of a complaint for a party to agree to a settlement. In other situations, information learned during discovery can help you to build a strong enough case that the other party agrees to a settlement. The reality is that most cases settle and few go all the way to trial.
Going to Trial
If settlement negotiations are not succeeding, formal trial preparations will begin. This can include filing pretrial motions with the court and having your attorney attend hearings to argue pretrial matters. I f your case proceeds to trial, the following may occur:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements
- Presentation of evidence and witnesses by the plaintiff, including cross-examination
- Presentation of evidence and witnesses by the defendant, including cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Instructions to the jury by the court
- Jury deliberation and delivery of the verdict
Seek Assistance From an Intellectual Property Litigation Attorney Today
At Mandour & Associates, our intellectual property attorneys have extensive experience representing clients in federal court. We understand the federal case process and ensure we are familiar with all the necessary requirements to best represent our clients’ interests. Our legal team is comprised of highly skilled litigators who guide clients through every step of the process—up to and including trial. Please feel free to contact us via our Contact Form if you have any questions.