Christianson v. Colt Indus.
486 U.S. 800 (1988)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Christianson v. Colt Indus., 486 U.S. 800 (1988)

Christianson v. Colt Industries Operating Corp.

No. 87-499

Argued April 18, 1988

Decided June 17, 1988

486 U.S. 800

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The principal statutes involved in this case, which arises from a jurisdictional dispute between Courts of Appeals, are 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1) -- granting the Federal Circuit exclusive jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision of a federal district court "if the jurisdiction of that court was based, in whole or in part, on" 28 U.S.C. § 1338 -- and § 1338(a), which grants the district courts original jurisdiction of any civil action "arising under" any federal statute relating to patents. Respondent (Colt), which is the leading manufacturer, seller, and marketer of "M16" rifles and their parts and accessories, held and developed patents relating to the rifle, and has maintained the secrecy as to specifications essential to the mass production of interchangeable M16 parts. Petitioner Christianson, a former Colt employee, established a corporation (also a petitioner), and began selling M16 parts. Colt joined petitioners with other defendants in a patent infringement lawsuit, but ultimately voluntarily dismissed its claims against petitioners. In the meantime, Colt notified several of petitioners' current and potential customers that petitioners were illegally misappropriating Colt's trade secrets, and urged them to refrain from doing business with petitioners. Petitioners then brought this antitrust action against Colt in Federal District Court for violations of §§ 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act. The complaint alleged, inter alia, that Colt's letters, litigation tactics, and other conduct drove petitioners out of business. Petitioners later amended the complaint to assert a second cause of action under state law for tortious interference with their business relationships. Colt asserted a defense that its conduct was justified by a need to protect its trade secrets, and countersued on a variety of claims arising out of petitioners' alleged misappropriation of M16 patent specifications. Petitioners filed a motion for summary judgment raising a patent law issue -- related to the validity of Colt's patents -- to which the complaint only obliquely hinted. The District Court awarded petitioners summary judgment as to liability on both the antitrust and the tortious interference claims. On Colt's appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction, and transferred the appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit, however, raising the jurisdictional issue sua sponte,

Page 486 U. S. 801

concluded that the Federal Circuit was "clearly wrong," and transferred the case back. The Federal Circuit, although concluding that the Seventh Circuit's jurisdictional decision was "clearly wrong," addressed the merits in the "interest of justice," and reversed the District Court.

Held:

1. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit would not have jurisdiction of the appeal of a final judgment in this case under 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1), since the action is not one "arising under" the patent statutes for purposes of § 1338(a). Pp. 486 U. S. 807-813.

(a) In order to demonstrate that a case is one "arising under" federal patent law, the plaintiff must set up some right, title, or interest under the patent laws, or at least make it appear that some right or privilege will be defeated by one construction, or sustained by the opposite construction, of those laws. Section 1338 jurisdiction extends only to those cases in which a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal patent law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law, in that patent law is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded claims. A case raising a federal patent law defense does not, for that reason alone, "arise under" patent law, even if the defense is anticipated in the complaint, and even if both parties admit that the defense is the only question truly at issue in the case. Nor is it necessarily sufficient that a well-pleaded claim alleges a single theory under which resolution of a patent law question is essential. If, on the face of a well-pleaded complaint, there are reasons completely unrelated to the provisions and purposes of the patent laws why the plaintiff may or may not be entitled to the relief it seeks, then the claim does not "arise under" those laws.

(b) Petitioners' antitrust count can readily be understood to encompass both a monopolization claim under § 2 of the Sherman Act and a group boycott claim under § 1. The patent law issue, while arguably necessary to at least one theory under each claim, is not necessary to the overall success of either claim. Even assuming, without deciding, that the validity of Colt's patents is an essential element of petitioners' monopolization theory, rather than merely an argument in anticipation of a defense, the well-pleaded complaint rule focuses on claims, not theories, and just because an element that is essential to a particular theory might be governed by federal patent law does not mean that the entire monopolization claim "arises under" patent law. Examination of the complaint reveals that the monopolization theory (on which petitioners ultimately prevailed in the District Court) is only one of several involved, and the only one for which the patent law issue is even arguably essential. Since there are reasons completely unrelated to the provisions

Page 486 U. S. 802

and purposes of federal patent law why petitioners may or may not be entitled to the relief sought under their monopolization claim, the claim does not "arise under" federal patent law. The same analysis obtains as to petitioners' group boycott claim under § 1 of the Sherman Act. Pp. 486 U. S. 810-813.

2. Nor does reference to congressional policy compel a finding of Federal Circuit jurisdiction. One of Congress' objectives in creating the Federal Circuit was to reduce the lack of uniformity and uncertainty of legal doctrine in the administration of patent law. Although arguably Congress' goals might be better served if the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction were to be fixed by reference to the case actually litigated, nevertheless, Congress determined the relevant focus when it granted Federal Circuit jurisdiction on the basis of the district courts' jurisdiction. Since the latter courts' jurisdiction is determined by reference to the well-pleaded complaint, not the well-tried case, the referent for the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction must be the same. The legislative history of the Federal Circuit's jurisdictional provisions confirms that focus. Pp. 486 U. S. 813-814.

3. Federal Circuit jurisdiction here cannot be based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b) by deeming the complaint amended to encompass a new and independent cause of action -- an implied cause of action under the patent laws. Even assuming that a court of appeals could furnish itself a jurisdictional basis under such theory, there is simply no evidence of any "express or implied consent" among the parties, as required by the Rule, to litigate a new patent law claim. Although the summary judgment papers focused almost entirely on patent law issues that petitioners deemed fundamental to the lawsuit, those issues fell squarely within the purview of the theories of recovery, defenses, and counterclaims that the pleadings already encompassed. Pp. 486 U. S. 814-815.

4. There is no merit to the contention that the Federal Circuit was obliged to adopt the Seventh Circuit's analysis of the jurisdictional issue as the law of the case. The law-of-the-case doctrine applies as much to the decisions of a coordinate court in the same case as to a court's own decisions, and the policies supporting the doctrine apply with even greater force to transfer decisions than to decisions of substantive law. However, the Federal Circuit, in transferring the case to the Seventh Circuit, was the first to decide the jurisdictional issue. That the Federal Circuit did not explain its rationale is irrelevant. Thus, the law of the case was that the Seventh Circuit had jurisdiction, and it was the Seventh Circuit that departed from the law of the case. Moreover, the doctrine merely expresses the practice of courts generally to refuse to reopen what has been decided, not a limit on their power. Thus, even if the Seventh Circuit's decision was law of the case, the Federal Circuit

Page 486 U. S. 803

did not exceed its power in revisiting the jurisdictional issue, and, once it concluded that the prior decision was "clearly wrong," it was obliged to decline jurisdiction. Most importantly, law of the case cannot bind this Court in reviewing decisions below. Pp. 486 U. S. 815-818.

5. The Federal Circuit, after concluding that it lacked jurisdiction, erred in deciding to reach the merits anyway "in the interest of justice." Courts created by statute only have such jurisdiction as the statute confers. Upon concluding that it lacked jurisdiction, the Federal Circuit had authority, under 28 U.S.C. § 1631, to make a single decision -- whether to dismiss the case or, "in the interest of justice," to transfer it to a court of appeals that has jurisdiction. The rule that a court may not in any case, even in the interest of justice, extend its jurisdiction where none exists has always worked injustice in particular cases -- especially in the situation where, as here, the litigants are bandied back and forth between two courts, each of which insists that the other has jurisdiction. Such situations inhere in the very nature of jurisdictional lines, for few jurisdictional lines can be so finely drawn as to leave no room for disagreement on close cases. However, the courts of appeals should achieve the end of quick settlement of questions of transfer by adhering strictly to principles of law of the case. Under those principles, if the transferee court can find the transfer decision plausible, its jurisdictional inquiry is at an end. Pp. 486 U. S. 818-819.

822 F.2d 1544, vacated and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined.

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires that we decide a peculiar jurisdictional battle between the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Each court has adamantly disavowed jurisdiction over this case. Each has transferred the case to the other. And each insists that the other's jurisdictional decision is "clearly wrong."

Page 486 U. S. 804

798 F.2d 1051, 1056-1057 (CA7 1986); 822 F.2d 1544, 1551, n. 7 (CA Fed.1987). The parties therefore have been forced to shuttle their appeal back and forth between Chicago and the District of Columbia in search of a hospitable forum, ultimately to have the merits decided, after two years, by a Court of Appeals that still insists it lacks jurisdiction to do so.

I

Respondent Colt Industries Operating Corp is the leading manufacturer, seller, and marketer of "M16" rifles and their parts and accessories. Colt's dominant market position dates back to 1959, when it acquired a license for 16 patents to manufacture the M16's precursor. Colt continued to develop the rifle, which the United States Army adopted as its standard assault rifle, and patented additional improvements. Through various devices, Colt has also maintained a shroud of secrecy around certain specifications essential to the mass production of interchangeable M16 parts. For example, Colt's patents conceal many of the manufacturing specifications that might otherwise be revealed by its engineering drawings, and when Colt licenses others to manufacture M16 parts or hires employees with access to proprietary information, it contractually obligates them not to disclose specifications.

Petitioner Christianson is a former Colt employee who acceded to such a nondisclosure agreement. Upon leaving respondent's employ in 1975, Christianson established petitioner International Trade Services, Inc. (ITS), and began selling M16 parts to various customers domestically and abroad. Petitioners' business depended on information that Colt considers proprietary. Colt expressly waived its proprietary rights at least as to some of petitioners' early transactions. The precise scope of Colt's waiver is a matter of considerable dispute. In 1983, however, Colt joined petitioners as defendants in a patent infringement lawsuit against two companies that had arranged a sale of M16s to El Salvador.

Page 486 U. S. 805

Evidence suggested that petitioners supplied the companies with certain M16 specifications, and Colt sought a court order enjoining petitioners from any further disclosures. When the District Court declined the motion, Colt voluntarily dismissed its claims against petitioners. In the meantime, Colt notified several of petitioners' current and potential customers that petitioners were illegally misappropriating Colt's trade secrets, and urged them to refrain from doing business with petitioners.

Three days after their dismissal from the lawsuit, petitioners brought this lawsuit in the District Court against Colt

"pursuant to Section 4 . . . (15 U.S.C. § 15) and Section 16 of the Clayton Act (§ 15 U.S.C. § 26) for damages, injunctive and equitable relief by reason of its violations of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act (15 U.S.C. §§ 1 & 2). . . ."

App. 7. The complaint alleged that Colt's letters, litigation tactics, and "[o]the[r] . . . conduct" drove petitioners out of business. In that context, petitioners included the following obscure passage:

"18. The validity of the Colt patents had been assumed throughout the life of the Colt patents through 1980. Unless such patents were invalid through the wrongful retention of proprietary information in contravention of United States Patent Law (35 U.S.C. § 112), in 1980, when such patents expired, anyone 'who has ordinary skill in the rifle-making art' is able to use the technology of such expired patents for which Colt earlier had a monopoly position for 17 years."

"19. ITS and anyone else has the right to manufacture, contract for the manufacture, supply, market and sell the M-16 and M-16 parts and accessories thereof at the present time."

Id. at 9. Petitioners later amended their complaint to assert a second cause of action under state law for tortious interference with their business relationships. Colt interposed a defense that

Page 486 U. S. 806

its conduct was justified by a need to protect its trade secrets, and countersued on a variety of claims arising out of petitioners' alleged misappropriation of M16 specifications.

Petitioners' motion for summary judgment raised only a patent law issue obliquely hinted at in the above-quoted paragraphs -- that Colt's patents were invalid from their inception for failure to disclose sufficient information to "enable any person skilled in the art . . . to make and use the same," as well as a description of "the best mode contemplated by the inventor of carrying out his invention." 35 U.S.C. § 112. Since Colt benefited from the protection of the invalid patents, the argument continues, the "trade secrets" that the patents should have disclosed lost any state law protection. Petitioners therefore argued that the District Court should hold that

"Colt's trade secrets are invalid, and that [their] claim of invalidity shall be taken as established with respect to all claims and counterclaims to which said issue is material."

App. 58.

The District Court awarded petitioners summary judgment as to liability on both the antitrust and the tortious interference claims, essentially relying on the § 112 theory articulated above. In the process, the District Court invalidated nine of Colt's patents, declared all trade secrets relating to the M16 unenforceable, enjoined Colt from enforcing "any form of trade secret right in any technical information relating to the M16," and ordered Colt to disgorge to petitioners all such information. 613 F.Supp. 330, 332 (CD Ill.1985).

Respondent appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which, after full briefing and argument, concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and issued an unpublished order transferring the appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. See 28 U.S.C. § 1631. The Seventh Circuit, however, raising the jurisdictional issue sua sponte, concluded that the Federal Circuit was "clearly wrong," and transferred the case back. 798 F.2d at 1056-1057, 1062.

Page 486 U. S. 807

The Federal Circuit, for its part, adhered to its prior jurisdictional ruling, concluding that the Seventh Circuit exhibited "a monumental misunderstanding of the patent jurisdiction granted this court," 822 F.2d at 1547, and was "clearly wrong," id. at 1551, n. 7. Nevertheless, the Federal Circuit proceeded to address the merits in the "interest of justice," id. at 1559-1560, and reversed the District Court. We granted certiorari, 484 U.S. 985 (1987), and now vacate the judgment of the Federal Circuit.

II

As relevant here, 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1) grants the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit exclusive jurisdiction over

"an appeal from a final decision of a district court of the United States . . . if the jurisdiction of that court was based, in whole or in part, on [28 U.S.C.] section 1338. . . . [Footnote 1]"

Section 1338(a), in turn, provides in relevant part that "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action arising under any Act of Congress relating to patents. . . ." Thus, the jurisdictional issue before us turns on whether this is a case "arising under" a federal patent statute, for, if it is, then the jurisdiction of the District Court was based at least "in part" on § 1338.

A

In interpreting § 1338's precursor, we held long ago that, in order to demonstrate that a case is one "arising under" federal patent law,

"the plaintiff must set up some right, title or interest under the patent laws, or at least make it appear that some right or privilege will be defeated by one construction,

Page 486 U. S. 808

or sustained by the opposite construction of these laws."

Pratt v. Paris Gas Light & Coke Co.,168 U. S. 255, 168 U. S. 259 (1897). See Henry v. A. B. Dick Co.,224 U. S. 1, 224 U. S. 16 (1912). Our cases interpreting identical language in other jurisdictional provisions, particularly the general federal question provision, 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States"), have quite naturally applied the same test. [Footnote 2] See Gully v. First National Bank in Meridian,299 U. S. 109, 299 U. S. 112 (1936) (the claim alleged in the complaint "must be such that it will be supported if the Constitution or laws of the United States are given one construction or effect, and defeated if they receive another") (citations omitted). A district court's federal question jurisdiction, we recently explained, extends over

"only those cases in which a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law,"

Franchise Tax Board of California v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust,463 U. S. 1, 463 U. S. 27-28 (1983), in that "federal law is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded . . . claims," id. at 463 U. S. 13. Linguistic consistency, to which we have historically adhered, demands that § 1338 jurisdiction likewise extend

Page 486 U. S. 809

only to those cases in which a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal patent law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal patent law, in that patent law is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded claims. See 822 F.2d at 1553-1556; 798 F.2d at 1059-1061.

The most superficial perusal of petitioners' complaint establishes, and no one disputes, that patent law did not in any sense create petitioners' antitrust or intentional interference claims. Since no one asserts that federal jurisdiction rests on petitioners' state law claims, the dispute centers around whether patent law "is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded [antitrust] claims." See Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc. v. Thompson,478 U. S. 804, 478 U. S. 813 (1986). Our cases, again mostly in the § 1331 context, establish principles for both defining the "well-pleaded . . . claims" and discerning which elements are "necessary" or "essential" to them. Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, as appropriately adapted to § 1338, whether a claim "arises under" patent law

"'must be determined from what necessarily appears in the plaintiff's statement of his own claim in the bill or declaration, unaided by anything alleged in anticipation or avoidance of defenses which it is thought the defendant may interpose.'"

Franchise Tax Board, supra, at 463 U. S. 10 (quoting Taylor v. Anderson,234 U. S. 74, 234 U. S. 75-76 (1914)). See Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley,211 U. S. 149 (1908). Thus, a case raising a federal patent law defense does not, for that reason alone, "arise under" patent law,

"even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties admit that the defense is the only question truly at issue in the case."

Franchise Tax Board, supra, at 463 U. S. 14. [Footnote 3] See also Merrell Dow, supra, at 478 U. S. 808.

Page 486 U. S. 810

Nor is it necessarily sufficient that a well-pleaded claim alleges a single theory under which resolution of a patent law question is essential. If,

"on the face of a well-pleaded complaint, there are . . . reasons completely unrelated to the provisions and purposes of [the patent laws] why the [plaintiff] may or may not be entitled to the relief it seeks,"

Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. at 463 U. S. 26 (footnote omitted), then the claim does not "arise under" those laws. See id. at 463 U. S. 26, n. 29. Thus, a claim supported by alternative theories in the complaint may not form the basis for § 1338 jurisdiction unless patent law is essential to each of those theories.

B

Framed in these terms, our resolution of the jurisdictional issue in this case is straightforward. Petitioners' antitrust count can readily be understood to encompass both a monopolization claim under § 2 of the Sherman Act and a group boycott claim under § 1. The patent law issue, while arguably necessary to at least one theory under each claim, is not necessary to the overall success of either claim.

Section 2 of the Sherman Act condemns "[e]very person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize. . . ." 15 U.S.C. § 2. The thrust of petitioners' monopolization claim is that Colt has

"embarked on a course of conduct to illegally extend its monopoly position with respect to the described patents and to prevent ITS from engaging in any business with respect to parts and accessories of the M-16."

App. 10. The complaint specifies several acts, most of which relate either to Colt's prosecution of the lawsuit against petitioners or to letters Colt sent to petitioners' potential and existing customers. To make out a § 2 claim, petitioners would

Page 486 U. S. 811

have to present a theory under which the identified conduct amounted to a

"willful acquisition or maintenance of [monopoly] power as distinguished from growth or development as a consequence of a superior product, business acumen, or historic accident."

United States v. Grinnell Corp.,384 U. S. 563, 384 U. S. 570-571 (1966). Both the Seventh Circuit and Colt focus entirely on what they perceive to be "the only basis Christianson asserted in the complaint for the alleged antitrust violation," 798 F.2d at 1061; see Brief for Respondent 32 -- namely, that Colt made false assertions in its letters and pleadings that petitioners were violating its trade secrets when those trade secrets were not protected under state law because Colt's patents were invalid under § 112. Thus, Colt concludes, the validity of the patents is an essential element of petitioners' prima facie monopolization theory, and the case "arises under" patent law.

We can assume, without deciding, that the invalidity of Colt's patents is an essential element of the foregoing monopolization theory, rather than merely an argument in anticipation of a defense. But see 822 F.2d at 1547. The well-pleaded complaint rule, however, focuses on claims, not theories, see Franchise Tax Board, 463 U.S. at 463 U. S. 26, and n. 29; Gully, 299 U.S. at 299 U. S. 117, and just because an element that is essential to a particular theory might be governed by federal patent law does not mean that the entire monopolization claim "arises under" patent law.

Examination of the complaint reveals that the monopolization theory that Colt singles out (and on which petitioners ultimately prevailed in the District Court) is only one of several, and the only one for which the patent law issue is even arguably essential. So far as appears from the complaint, for example, petitioners might have attempted to prove that Colt's accusations of trade secret infringement were false, not because Colt had no trade secrets, but because Colt authorized petitioners to use them. App. 9-10 ("Contrary to the permission extended to ITS to sell Colt parts and accessories

Page 486 U. S. 812

and in violation of the anti-trust laws . . . Colt has embarked upon a course of conduct . . . to prevent ITS from engaging in any business with respect to parts and accessories of the M-16"). In fact, most of the conduct alleged in the complaint could be deemed wrongful quite apart from the truth or falsity of Colt's accusations. According to the complaint, Colt's letters also (1) contained "copies of inapplicable court orders" and "suggest[ed] that these court orders prohibited [the recipients] from doing business with" petitioners; and (2) "falsely stat[ed] that Colt's right' to proprietary data had been `consistently upheld in various courts.'" Id. at 10. Similarly, the complaint alleges that Colt's lawsuit against petitioners (1) was designed "to contravene the permission previously given"; (2) was "[p]ursued . . . in bad faith by subjecting [petitioners] to substantial expense in extended discovery procedures"; and (3) was brought only to enable Colt "to urge customers and potential customers of [petitioners] to refrain from doing business with them." Id. at 10-11. Since there are "reasons completely unrelated to the provisions and purposes" of federal patent law why petitioners "may or may not be entitled to the relief [they] see[k]" under their monopolization claim, Franchise Tax Board, supra, at 26 (footnote omitted), the claim does not "arise under" federal patent law.

The same analysis obtains as to petitioners' group boycott claim under § 1 of the Sherman Act, which provides that "[e]very contract, combination . . or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce . . . is declared to be illegal," 15 U.S.C. § 1. This claim is set forth in the allegation that

"virtually all suppliers of ITS and customers of ITS have agreed with Colt to refrain from supplying and purchasing M-16 parts and accessories to or from ITS, which has had the effect of requiring ITS to close its doors and no longer transact business."

App. 11. As this case unfolded, petitioners attempted to prove that the alleged agreement was unreasonable because its purpose was to protect Colt's trade secrets from petitioners' infringement and, given the patents'

Page 486 U. S. 813

invalidity under § 112, Colt had no trade secrets to infringe. Whether or not the patent law issue was an "essential" element of that group boycott theory, however, petitioners could have supported their group boycott claim with any of several theories having nothing to do with the validity of Colt's patents. Equally prominent in the complaint, for example, is a theory that the alleged agreement was unreasonable, not because Colt had no trade secrets to protect, but because Colt authorized petitioners to use them. Once again, the appearance on the complaint's face of an alternative, nonpatent theory compels the conclusion that the group boycott claim does not "arise under" patent law.

III

Colt offers three arguments for finding jurisdiction in the Federal Circuit, notwithstanding the well-pleaded complaint rule. The first derives from congressional policy; the second is based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(b); and the third is grounded in principles of the law of the case. We find none of them persuasive.

A

Colt correctly observes that one of Congress' objectives in creating a Federal Circuit with exclusive jurisdiction over certain patent cases was "to reduce the widespread lack of uniformity and uncertainty of legal doctrine that exist[ed] in the administration of patent law." H.R.Rep. No. 97-312, p. 23 (1981). Colt might be correct (although not clearly so) that Congress' goals would be better served if the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction were to be fixed "by reference to the case actually litigated," rather than by an ex ante hypothetical assessment of the elements of the complaint that might have been dispositive. Brief for Respondent 31. Congress determined the relevant focus, however, when it granted jurisdiction to the Federal Circuit over "an appeal from . . . a

Page 486 U. S. 814

district court . . . if the jurisdiction of that court was based . . . on section 1338." 28 U.S.C. § 1295(a)(1) (emphasis added). Since the district court's jurisdiction is determined by reference to the well-pleaded complaint, not the well-tried case, the referent for the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction must be the same. The legislative history of the Federal Circuit's jurisdictional provisions confirms that focus. See, e.g., H.R.Rep. No. 97-312, supra, at 41 (cases fall within the Federal Circuit's patent jurisdiction "in the same sense that cases are said to arise under' federal law for purposes of federal question jurisdiction"). In view of that clear congressional intent, we have no more authority to read § 1295(a)(1) as granting the Federal Circuit jurisdiction over an appeal where the well-pleaded complaint does not depend on patent law, than to read § 1338 as granting a district court jurisdiction over such a complaint. See Pratt, 168 U.S. at 168 U. S. 259.

B

Colt suggests alternatively that, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(b), [Footnote 4] we should deem the complaint

Page 486 U. S. 815

amended to encompass a new and independent cause of action -- "an implied cause of action under section 112 of the patent laws." Brief for Respondent 28. Such a cause of action, which Colt finds in petitioners' summary judgment papers, would plainly "arise under" the patent laws, regardless of its merit. See 822 F.2d at 1566 (Nichols, J., concurring and dissenting).

We need not decide under what circumstances, if any, a court of appeals could furnish itself a jurisdictional basis unsupported by the pleadings by deeming the complaint amended in light of the parties' "express or implied consent" to litigate a claim. Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 15(b). In this case, there is simply no evidence of any consent among the parties to litigate the new patent law claim that Colt imputes to petitioners. Colt points to nothing in petitioners' summary judgment motion expressly raising such a new cause of action, much less anything in its own motion papers suggesting consent to one. See App. 57-58. True, the summary judgment papers focused almost entirely on the patent law issues, which petitioners deemed "[b]asic and fundamental to the subject lawsuit." Id. at 57. But those issues fell squarely within the purview of the theories of recovery, defenses, and counterclaims that the pleadings already encompassed. Petitioners recognized as much when they moved the District Court to hold that their "claim of [patent] invalidity shall be taken as established with respect to all claims and counterclaims to which said issue is material." Id. at 58. Thus, the patent law focus of the summary judgment papers hardly heralded the assertion of a new patent law claim. See, e.g., Quillen v. International Playtex, Inc., 789 F.2d 1041, 1044 (CA4 1986); 6 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1493, p. 466 (1971). Moreover, the District Court never intimated that the patent issues were relevant to any cause of action other than the antitrust and intentional interference claims raised expressly in the complaint; the court four times linked its judgment to "liability on Counts I and II," without any reference to the hypothetical Count III that Colt imputes to petitioners. 609 F.Supp. 1174, 1185 (CD Ill.1985). See also 613 F.Supp. at 332.

C

Colt's final argument is that the Federal Circuit was obliged not to revisit the Seventh Circuit's thorough analysis of the jurisdictional issue, but merely to adopt it as the law of the case. See also 822 F.2d at 1565 (Nichols, J., concurring and dissenting).

"As most commonly defined, the doctrine

Page 486 U. S. 816

[of the law of the case] posits that, when a court decides upon a rule of law, that decision should continue to govern the same issues in subsequent stages in the same case."

Arizona v. California,460 U. S. 605, 460 U. S. 618 (1983) (dictum). This rule of practice promotes the finality and efficiency of the judicial process by "protecting against the agitation of settled issues." 1B J. Moore, J. Lucas, & T. Currier, Moore's Federal Practice

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