Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Li v. Matal. Matter arising out of attorney discipline in New Jersey

The outcome

Feng Li appeals from the decision of the United States
District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granting
the motion of the United States Patent and Trademark
Office (“USPTO”) and the Director of the USPTO
(collectively, “Appellees”) to dismiss Mr. Li’s complaint for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a
claim, thereby affirming the USPTO’s decision to exclude
Mr. Li from practice before the USPTO. Li v. Matal, No.
15-cv-668 (E.D. Va. Jan. 22, 2016). We affirm.

The case has a New Jersey connection:

After successfully obtaining a
judgment for his clients, Mr. Li disagreed with his clients
on the amount of attorney’s fees he was owed, resulting in
his clients filing suit in New Jersey state court. Knowing
the fees were in dispute, Mr. Li transferred $1.2 million of
the judgment into trust funds in his children’s names.
The New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics determined that
Mr. Li violated the New Jersey Rules of Professional
Conduct by taking possession of client funds he knew to
be disputed. In 2013, the Supreme Court of New Jersey
disbarred Mr. Li from the practice of law based on attorney


Mr. Li’s response to the
Notice and Order did not dispute the fact that he had
been disbarred in New Jersey, but rather argued that
reciprocal discipline by the USPTO was not justified
because the New Jersey Supreme Court did not have
jurisdiction to disbar him based on his conduct in New
. He further argued that the New Jersey Supreme
Court’s actions violated the due process, equal protection,
and Ex Post Facto clauses of the U.S. Constitution. On
April 28, 2015, the Director of the USPTO issued a final
order pursuant to 37 C.F.R. § 11.24, excluding Mr. Li from
practice before the USPTO. The USPTO Director carefully
applied § 11.24 and found that Mr. Li failed to meet his
burden to show by clear and convincing evidence that: (1)
the New Jersey disciplinary process was “so lacking in
notice or opportunity to be heard;” (2) there was an “infirmity
of proof” establishing his conduct; or (3) a “grave
injustice” would result from his disbarment.

Of CAFC review:

Our review of a district court’s
decision on a petition brought pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 32
is de novo, “reapplying the standard” applied by the
district court under the APA.


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