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Solar Dynamics, Inc. v. Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, P.C.

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

February 8, 2017

SOLAR DYNAMICS, INC., Appellant,
v.
BUCHANAN INGERSOLL & ROONEY, P.C., and CHRISTOPHER E. PARADIES, Appellees.

         NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Sarasota County; Rochelle Curley, Judge.

          Roger L. Young of the Law Office of Roger L. Young, P.A., Sarasota, for Appellant

          Mark D. Tinker, Frank H. Gassler, and Scott S. Amitrano of Banker Lopez Gassler, P.A., St. Petersburg; and Hala A. Sandridge of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, P.C., Tampa, for Appellees

          LaROSE, Judge.

         Solar Dynamics, Inc. (Solar), appeals the trial court's order dismissing, without prejudice, its legal malpractice action against Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, P.C. (Buchanan), and Christopher E. Paradies.[1] We have jurisdiction. See Fla. R. App. P. 9.030(b)(1)(A). After careful review of the record, and with the benefit of oral argument, we affirm.

         Introduction

         Solar hired Buchanan and Mr. Paradies to seek a patent for Solar's fastening shade system for playground structures.[2] Allegedly, the issued patent was inadequate to protect Solar's idea and design from infringement by competitors. In response to Solar's legal malpractice lawsuit, Buchanan and Mr. Paradies moved to dismiss the complaint. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case, concluding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction.[3] See 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a) (2015) ("No State court shall have jurisdiction over any claim for relief arising under any Act of Congress relating to patents . . . .").

         Solar argues that the trial court erred. According to Solar, the malpractice claim is a pure state law matter that does not raise a substantial question of federal law. Buchanan and Mr. Paradies insist otherwise. They contend that before any malpractice claim can proceed, a federal court must necessarily decide the scope, validity, or infringement of the patent. Those determinations, they tell us, can only be made in an action by Solar in federal court against an alleged patent infringer. See 35 U.S.C. § 271 (2015) (creating a cause of action for patent infringement). Only against that tableau, they say, can a state court determine whether the lawyers committed malpractice that caused Solar damage. As we will see, Buchanan and Mr. Paradies have the better argument. The trial court correctly found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

         Background[4]

         Solar retained Mr. Paradies in the spring of 2006 to obtain a patent for its fastening shade system. The United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent, '237 Patent, in January 2008. Shortly thereafter, Solar began negotiations with another company, Playcore, concerning the grant of an exclusive license for Playcore to use, or practice, the patented invention. By the summer of 2008, negotiations stalled. Playcore objected to a proposed license agreement prepared by Mr. Paradies, claiming that the patent was "too weak." Playcore proceeded to design and market its own shading system.

         After learning that other companies also were selling a similar shade system, Solar sought further legal advice from Duane A. Stewart, III, another Buchanan lawyer. Mr. Stewart advised that "the patent that [Buchanan and Mr. Paradies] had obtained for [Solar] had failed to adequately protect the company's idea and function, and that the patent provided no protection."

          Without first filing a federal patent infringement suit against any of its competitors, Solar sued Buchanan and Mr. Paradies in state court. They alleged that Buchanan and Mr. Paradies "were negligent in failing to protect [Solar's] idea and design from infringement, and by failing to properly patent the fastening system." After the trial court dismissed the case, this appeal ensued.

         Standard ...


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