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Maxchief Investments Ltd. v. Wok & Pan, Ind., Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

November 29, 2018

MAXCHIEF INVESTMENTS LIMITED, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
WOK & PAN, IND., INC., Defendant-Appellee

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in No. 2:15-cv-00153-JRG-MCLC, Judge J. Ronnie Greer.

          Michael J. Bradford, Luedeka Neely Group, PC, Knoxville, TN, argued for plaintiff-appellant. Also represented by Mark P. Crockett.

          Patricia Louise Ray, D&R IP Law Firm, APLC, Alhambra, CA, argued for defendant-appellee. Also represented by Tony Wong, Monterey Park, CA.

          Before Dyk, Reyna, and Hughes, Circuit Judges.

          DYK, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Maxchief Investments Limited ("Maxchief") appeals from the judgment of the District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. The district court dismissed Maxchief's declaratory judgment action against Wok & Pan, Ind., Inc. ("Wok") for lack of personal jurisdiction and dismissed Maxchief's tortious interference claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because Wok lacked sufficient contacts with the forum state of Tennessee for personal jurisdiction as to both the declaratory judgment claim and the tortious interference claim, we affirm.

         Background

         Maxchief makes plastic folding tables. It has its principal place of business in China and distributes one of its tables-the UT-18 table-exclusively through Meco Corporation ("Meco"), which is located in Greenville, Tennessee. Meco sells the UT-18 tables to retailers such as Staples, Inc. ("Staples") and The Coleman Company ("Coleman"), which in turn sell the tables to consumers.

         Wok competes with Maxchief in the market for plastic folding tables, and also has its principal place of business in China. Wok is the owner of U.S. Patent Nos. 5, 957, 061, 8, 881, 661, 8, 931, 421, and 9, 089, 204 (collectively, "the Wok patents"), which are directed to folding tables.

         Two separate actions are relevant here. In February 2015, Wok filed suit against Maxchief's customer, Staples, in the Central District of California, alleging that Staples' sale of Maxchief's UT-18 table infringed the Wok patents. See Wok & Pan, Ind., Inc. v. Staples, Inc., No. 2:15-cv-00809 (C.D. Cal.) ("the Staples action"). Staples requested that Meco, the distributor of the table, defend and indemnify Staples. Meco in turn requested that Maxchief defend and indemnify Meco and Staples. The Staples action is stayed pending the outcome of this case.

         Separate from the Staples action, Maxchief filed this action against Wok in the Eastern District of Tennessee. In its amended complaint, filed on September 2, 2016, Maxchief sought declarations of non-infringement or invalidity of all claims of the Wok patents. The complaint also alleged tortious interference with business relations under Tennessee state law. Wok moved to dismiss all claims for lack of personal jurisdiction.[1] There is no contention here that Wok is subject to general jurisdiction in Tennessee. Maxchief claims only that Wok is subject to specific personal jurisdiction.

         On September 29, 2017, the district court dismissed the declaratory judgment claim for lack of personal jurisdiction. Maxchief Invs. Ltd. v. Wok & Pan, Ind., Inc., No. 2:15-CV-153, 2017 WL 6601921 (E.D. Tenn. Sept. 29, 2017). The court held that Maxchief failed to allege that Wok had sufficient minimum contacts with Tennessee, because although Wok "sought to enforce the patents against other parties in other courts," Wok "did not seek to enforce [its] patents in the forum state of Tennessee." Id. at *7.

         With respect to the state law tortious interference claim, the district court noted that Maxchief had not "explicitly allege[d]" that the court had subject matter jurisdiction over this claim, and indicated that amendment of the complaint would be futile and unduly prejudicial to Wok because "there is no independent federal ...


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