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CA: No Judicial Estoppel Without Court's Reliance on Prior Representation

E-Pass Technologies, Inc. v. Moses & Singer, LLP, 189 Cal. App. 4th 1140 (2010), review denied (Feb. 23, 2011)

CA: Judicial Estoppel

Student Contributor: Mordechai Buls

Facts: Plaintiff sued Defendant for malpractice after having lost a number of patent-infringement lawsuits in which it was subject to substantial attorney-fee awards. Plaintiff initially filed its malpractice suit in California state court and litigated the issue of whether the court had jurisdiction. The California Court of Appeal ruled that the claims did not raise substantial issues of patent law. While the state court action was pending, Plaintiff filed a similar action for malpractice against Defendant in U.S. District Court. Plaintiff filed in federal court because it believed that the state court decision upholding jurisdiction was unduly restrictive. Defendants moved to dismiss the federal action, claiming that Plaintiff was judicially estopped from pursuing it based on representations Plaintiff made to the California Court of Appeal.

Issue: Is the company judicially estopped from pursuing its claims in federal court?

Ruling: No. A legal malpractice plaintiff in an underlying patent suit is not judicially estopped from re-filing its lawsuit in federal court after initially filing it in state court. The District Court seemed to think that Plaintiff was forum shopping, however Plaintiff was not judicially estopped from pursuing its claims in federal court since a necessary element of judicial estoppel was that the first court must have relied on an earlier representation from which the plaintiff later retreated which did not happen in this case. Therefore, the claims were allowed to proceed in District Court.

Lesson: As long as all the elements of judicial estoppel are not present, the court will allow the Plaintiff to proceed.

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Posted in: California, Intellectual Property