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Legal Memorandum: First-to-file Rule

Issue: When considering venue for subsequently filed cases, does the first-to-file rule automatically require the first filed-in court to maintain venue?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: First-to-file rule; Venue; Second-filed suit
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 815 F. Supp. 994; 488 F. Supp. 570; 125 F.3d 914; 439 F.2d 403
Cited Statutes: 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)
Date: 01/01/2009

Pursuant to the first-to-file rule, the court in which the first suit was filed may “‘decide whether the second suit filed must be dismissed, stayed, or transferred and consolidated.'” Cadle Co. v. Whataburger of Alice, Inc., 174 F.3d 599, 606 (5th Cir. 1999)).

The first-to-file rule is not mandatory; rather, “when related cases are pending before two federal courts, the court in which the case was last filed may refuse to hear it if the issues raised by the cases substantially overlap.”  Id. at 603 (emphasis added).  “The rule rests on principles of comity and sound judicial administration.  ‘The concern manifestly is to avoid the waste of duplication, to avoid rulings which may trench upon the authority of sister courts, and to avoid piecemeal resolution of issues that call for a uniform result.'”  Id. (citation omitted); accord Sutter Corp. v. P & P Indus., Inc., 125 F.3d 914, 917 (5th Cir. 1997).  Recently, a judge in the Eastern District of Texas Federal Court found: 

The Fifth Circuit generally follows the first-to-file rule.  “The federal courts have long recognized that the principle of comity requires federal district courts—courts of coordinate jurisdiction and equal rank—to exercise care to avoid interference with each other’s affairs.”  The general principle in the interrelation of federal district courts is to avoid duplicative litigation.  Federal courts should try to avoid the waste of this duplication as well as rulings that may trench upon the authority of sister […]

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