Congress governs the location of civil suits through a general venue statute1 and various specialized venue statutes.2 One of these specialized statutes governs venue for patent infringement actions.3 Before last Term, the Supreme Court had twice held that the patent venue statute was the “exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions.”4 In both cases, the Court arrived at its holding after examining the purposes of Congress’s venue legislation. The second time around, the patent venue statute’s exclusivity meant that a defendant corporation “resides” only in its state of incorporation for venue purposes in patent suits.5 Last Term, in TC Heartland LLC v. Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC,6 the Supreme Court again held that a defendant corporation “resides” only in its state of incorporation for venue purposes in patent suits.7 Specifically, nothing in the text of the most recent amendments to the general venue statute8 clearly signaled Congress’s intent to overturn the Court’s settled construction of the patent venue statute as exclusive.9 An instructive irony underlies TC Heartland: a text-focused clear statement rule led the Court to uphold a purposivist construction of a statutory scheme. This irony ought to motivate textualist judges to enforce the best textual readings of amended statutory schemes instead of requiring a clear statement of Congress’s intent to overrule preamendment judicial constructions of these schemes.
In 2014, Kraft Foods filed a patent infringement lawsuit against TC Heartland in the District of Delaware.10 TC Heartland is a limited liability company allegedly incorporated in Indiana and with headquarters there.11 TC Heartland filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and to transfer venue to the Southern District of Indiana.12 The transfer of venue claim depended on where TC Heartland “resides”13: If the patent venue statute applied exclusively, venue would lie in Indiana where the company was allegedly incorporated.14 But if the general venue statute supplemented the patent venue statute, venue could also be proper in the District of Delaware so long as TC Heartland was within that court’s personal jurisdiction.15
Whether the general venue statute supplements the patent venue statute had been litigated twice before at the Supreme Court. Both times, the Court answered this question in the negative. In Stonite Products Co. v. Melvin Lloyd Co.,16 if the patent venue statute was independent of the general venue statute, then venue was proper only where the defendant was an “inhabitant” (that is, the defendant’s state of incorporation17), or where the defendant allegedly infringed and had a “regular and established place of business.”18 If it was not indepen-dent, venue could lie in other districts as well.19 The Court opined that the “scope” of the patent venue statute could “best be determined from an examination of the reasons for its enactment.”20 Relying heavily on a House report and a Congressman’s remarks,21 the Court determined that “Congress did not intend [the patent venue statute] to dovetail with the general provisions relating to the venue of civil suits.”22 Thus, the patent venue statute “[wa]s the exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement proceedings.”23
The Court reaffirmed Stonite fifteen years later in Fourco Glass Co. v. Transmirra Products Corp.24 In the intervening time, Congress had revised and recodified the Judicial Code. The patent venue statute, § 1400(b), now looked to where the defendant “resides”25 instead of where the defendant “inhabits.” The general venue statute now defined “residence . . . for venue purposes” as the state of incorporation or wherever a company was “licensed to do business or [wa]s doing business.”26 Drawing largely on the Revisers’ Notes, Fourco found that Congress had not intended any “substantive change” in the venue statutes,27 so § 1400(b)’s use of “resides” retained the prerevision meaning of “inhabitant” — the state of incorporation only.28 The patent venue statute remained the “exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions,”29 independent of the general venue statute, § 1391.30 Fourco stood unchallenged for thirty years.
In 1988, Congress amended § 1391 to provide: “For purposes of venue under this chapter, a defendant that is a corporation shall be deemed to reside in any judicial district in which it is subject to personal jurisdiction . . . .”31 In VE Holding Corp. v. Johnson Gas Appliance Co.,32 the Federal Circuit parsed the effect of the newly inserted language, “[f]or purposes of venue under this chapter.”33 Since the patent venue provision was in the same chapter, it would now incorporate § 1391(c)’s definition of corporate residence.34 According to the Federal Circuit, then, § 1400(b) was no longer independent of § 1391(c). VE Holding had gutted Fourco.
In 2011, Congress again amended § 1391, setting the groundwork for TC Heartland. First, Congress changed “[f]or purposes of venue under this chapter” to “[f]or all venue purposes.”35 Second, Congress added a saving clause, which states that § 1391 governs venue for all civil actions “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law.”36 TC Heartland argued that the addition of the saving clause insulated § 1400(b) from § 1391(c)’s definition of corporate residence.37 So insulated, “resides” in § 1400(b) would refer only to the state of incorporation, as Fourco had held.38 Venue would therefore be proper only in two categories of locations: (1) TC Heartland’s state of incorporation, and (2) jurisdictions where TC Heartland allegedly infringed and had a regular and established place of business.39 Under this premise, since TC Heartland was allegedly incorporated in Indiana and did not have a place of business in Delaware, venue was improper in Delaware.
Magistrate Judge Burke rejected TC Heartland’s reading of the 2011 amendments, finding that the changes to § 1391 had done nothing to alter VE Holding’s interpretation of this provision.40 He also concluded that the Delaware district court had personal jurisdiction over TC Heartland with respect to all claims.41 He accordingly recommended that the court deny TC Heartland’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction and to transfer venue.42 The district court adopted Magistrate Judge Burke’s recommendation in full.43
TC Heartland petitioned the Federal Circuit seeking a writ of mandamus for dismissal or transfer, but the court denied the petition.44 Judge Moore, writing for a unanimous panel,45 held that Federal Circuit precedent foreclosed TC Heartland’s venue and personal jurisdiction arguments.46 The panel found that nothing in the 2011 amendments provided any basis for reconsidering VE Holding’s interpretation of the venue statutes.47 That is, nothing in the 2011 amendments insulated § 1400(b) from § 1391(c)’s definition of corporate residence.48 Judge Moore observed that “the patent venue statute itself does not define corporate residence and thus there is no statutory ‘law’” that supplies an alternate definition of corporate residence in lieu of § 1391(c)’s default definition.49
The Supreme Court reversed. Writing for a unanimous Court,50 Justice Thomas held that “reside[nce]” in § 1400(b) means the state of incorporation, a meaning unaltered by the 2011 amendments to § 1391.51 Justice Thomas observed that Fourco had reaffirmed Stonite’s findings of congressional purpose: “Congress designed § 1400(b) to be ‘complete, independent and alone controlling in its sphere.’”52 Just as “nothing in the 1948 recodification evidenced an intent to alter” the patent venue statute’s independent status,53 Justice Thomas continued, nothing in the 2011 amendments showed an intent to alter Fourco’s interpretation of § 1391 and § 1400(b).54 The Court relied on a clear statement rule: if Congress wishes to change the settled judicial construction of a statute, it must give an obvious signal to that effect.55
To show that there was no such clear statement in the 2011 amendments, the Court adduced three arguments. First, the insertion of the word “all” in “[f]or all venue purposes”56 did not materially change the applicability of § 1391(c).57 Second, § 1391’s new saving clause — “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law”58 — permits specialized venue statutes to contain independent definitions of “resides.”59 Third, the 2011 amendments eliminated the words “under this chapter,” which had been the basis for the Federal Circuit’s application of § 1391’s corporate residence definition to the patent venue statute.60 In short, the text of the 2011 amendments failed to clearly signal Congress’s intent to overrule Fourco in favor of VE Holding.61 For the Court, Fourco was still the law, which meant that “resides” in § 1400(b) still only referred to the defendant’s state of incorporation.62
TC Heartland’s text-focused application of the clear statement rule ironically left Stonite’s and Fourco’s purposivist interpretations of the venue statutes intact. This irony ought to motivate textualist judges to enforce the best textual readings of amended statutory schemes instead of requiring a clear statement of Congress’s intent to overrule preamendment judicial constructions of these schemes. To be sure, had the TC Heartland Court just stuck with the best textual reading of the amended statutory scheme instead of applying a clear statement rule,63 it still would have had sufficient reason to reach the same interpretation of corporate residence as it did in Fourco. But this is happenstance. Suppose that Fourco had come out the other way — that the purpose of the general venue statute was to supplement the patent venue statute. In this counterfactual, the best reading of the 2011 amendments would be inconsistent with Fourco, but such inconsistency still likely wouldn’t be enough to clearly signal a congressional intent to overrule Fourco. Thus, when the clear statement rule is applied, even where the best textual reading of an amended statute suggests a certain interpretation, the text may not be clear enough to overcome a prior purposivist construction. Despite this ironic possibility, textualist judges likely feel committed to clear statement rules because they force Congress to clearly communicate its intended meaning in statutory text. Nonetheless, when confronted with prior (perhaps purposivist) judicial constructions of statutes, textualist judges could achieve this goal through a method that is more consistent with textualism in the long run: strictly enforcing the best textual readings of amended statutes.
Unlike TC Heartland, both Fourco and Stonite relied on nontextual sources. Upon reviewing the legislative history, Stonite determined that “Congress did not intend [the patent venue statute] to dovetail with the general provisions relating to the venue of civil suits, but rather that it alone should control venue in patent infringement proceedings.”64 In drawing this conclusion, Stonite only quoted the text of the venue statutes in its first footnote65 and did not engage in any sort of textual exegesis of these statutes.66 Thus, Stonite not only drew on nontextual sources to divine congressional intent, but also relied on purpose in place of text to decide the “scope” of the patent venue statute.67
Fourco’s analysis likewise rested on nontextual sources; in particular, the Court relied heavily on “Revisers’ Notes.”68 Statements by these Revisers69 made “uniformly clear that no changes of law or policy [we]re to be presumed from changes of language in the revision unless an intent to make such changes [wa]s clearly expressed.”70 Finding that the Revisers’ Notes did not clearly express any such intent, the Court reaffirmed Stonite’s interpretation of corporate residence for patent suits.71
Instead of looking to legislative history or Revisers’ Notes, the TC Heartland Court fruitlessly scoured the text of the 2011 amendments for a clear indication that Congress had intended to overturn Fourco’s purposivist interpretation of the venue statutes. A clear statement rule mandates that Congress can “achieve a particular result only by explicit statement.”72 Though clear statement rules “appear to fit comfortably within a textualist approach,”73 the rule’s application in TC Heartland had the ironic effect of blessing two judicial opinions — Stonite and Fourco — that relied on nontextual methods and sources.
To be sure, the “best reading”74 of the 2011 amendments is likely consistent with Stonite’s and Fourco’s purposivist interpretations of the venue statutes. A contrary reading would render part of § 1400(b) superfluous.75 Section 1391(c) defines corporate residence in terms of personal jurisdiction, and § 1400(b)’s second prong renders venue proper wherever a defendant corporation has a “regular and established place of business.”76 Since specific personal jurisdiction would necessarily attach if a defendant has a regular and established place of business within a district,77 adopting the § 1391(c) definition of corporate residence for the first prong of § 1400(b) (“resides”) would obviate the need for the second prong of § 1400(b).78 As a textual matter, then, the 2011 version of § 1400(b) reads as the “exclusive provision controlling venue in patent infringement actions,”79 consistent with Stonite’s and Fourco’s purposivist interpretations.
But what if the best textual reading of the 2011 amendments had been inconsistent with Fourco’s purposivist interpretation of the venue statutes? Consider if the Revisers’ Notes had indicated that the addition of “for venue purposes” to the 1948 version of § 1391 was meant to incorporate § 1391(c)’s definition of corporate residence into § 1400(b). In this circumstance, Fourco likely would have held that the purpose of § 1391(c) was to supplement § 1400(b).80 If TC Heartland had enforced the best textual reading of the amended venue statutes by applying the rule against surplusage, it would have abrogated this counterfactual Fourco holding.
Yet enforcing the clear statement rule would lead to the opposite result: the purposivist interpretation would have stood. The clear statement rule does not call for the “best reading.”81 Rather, it asks whether the text of the 2011 amendments provided a clear statement that Congress intended to overrule Fourco’s construction of the venue statutes. In this counterfactual, a statutory scheme that created surplusage likely would not have functioned as a clear enough statement to overrule Fourco’s holding.82 Thus, even though the best textual reading of the 2011 amendments is that they insulate § 1400(b) from § 1391(c), these amendments would not have clearly signaled Congress’s intent to overrule a sixty-year-old precedent saying the opposite. This TC Heartland counterfactual finds a real-life counterpart in Forest Grove School District v. T.A.,83 in which a six-Justice majority held that the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) did not clearly signal Congress’s intent to abrogate a preamendment, purposivist interpretation;84 the dissent countered that the best textual reading of the amended IDEA indicated a contrary interpretation.85
Put more generally, even where the best textual reading of a statute suggests a certain interpretation, the text may not be clear enough to overcome a settled, contrary construction.86 Indeed, commentators have observed that text-focused clear statement rules actually “stand at a remove from a strictly textualist methodology” because such rules “reflect considerations that are necessarily external to the statutory text itself.”87 For example, “each instance [of the clear statement rule] represents an area in which the resistance to change is especially acute.”88 When deployed in a context like that in TC Heartland, the clear statement rule is as much about the age-old norm of precedent as it is about the modern norm of textualism.
This conclusion begs a difficult question, however: why does a leading textualist like Justice Thomas endorse an approach that could uphold a settled (purposivist) interpretation of a statute, contrary to the best textual reading of the amended version of that statute?89 The answer likely has to do with textualists’ preferred way of discerning congressional intent. Textualists want Congress to speak through statutory text if it intends to disrupt traditional treatments of principles like sovereign immunity.90 Clear statement rules therefore “preclude — or at least substantially reduce the likelihood of — finding a result implicit in a statute’s design.”91 This textualist justification for clear statement rules is defensive — the point is to make it harder for purposivists to glean controversial congressional intent from ambiguous statutory text.
As TC Heartland demonstrates, however, this defensiveness comes at a special cost when the status quo is a purposivist interpretation. A textualist judge may have to leave a settled purposivist construction intact where the best textual reading of a statute indicates (but does not clearly signal) a contrary interpretation. Textualists should consider adopting a more offensive-minded approach to statutory interpretation: enforcing the best textual readings of amended statutes,92 free from the controlling force of prior, preamendment judicial constructions.93 Importantly, under this approach, statutory text is still the only proper indicator of congressional intent. True, if purposivists need only enforce the best readings of statutes rather than find clear statements, they would have more leeway to find text that supports their purposivist interpretations. But the long-term solution to countering purposivism is to entrench the textualist methodology, something that cannot be done if textualists must yield to settled purposivist constructions that conflict with the best textual readings of amended statutes.
Thus, while TC Heartland stands as a short-term victory for textualism, it also warns that the clear statement rule can undermine textualism in the long run. On one hand, the Court focused exclusively on the text of the 2011 amendments, and did not inquire into congressional purposes or legislative history. On the other hand, the Court’s use of a demanding clear statement rule could have led textualist Justices to uphold a settled interpretation of the venue statutes contrary to the text of the statutes in force after the 2011 amendments. To preclude this possibility, textualists should dispense with the clear statement rule, at least in this context,94 and instead strictly enforce the best textual readings of statutes. At the very least, cases like TC Heartland should move textualists to reconsider why they find themselves committed to clear statement rules, even where such rules weigh heavily in favor of prior purposivist interpretations of statutes.