Law Firm’s Request For Rule 11 Sanctions Against Pro Se Litigant Goes Nowhere


The plaintiff filed a pro se employment discrimination complaint against Reed Smith and other defendants (apparently employees or partners of Reed Smith). The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). The court granted the motion in part and dismissed some claims. However, it held that other claims were well pleaded and raised an issue for trial.

The court denied the Defendants’ Motion for Rule 11 sanctions on the ground that the pleading was not frivolous. Moreover, the court clearly believed that the motion for sanctions was a reach given that it was filed shortly after the complaint was filed. The court reasoned that the EEOC’s decision to reject the discrimination claim was not binding on the court and did not support an award of sanctions. Further, the court noted that pro se litigants are held to a relaxed standard of pleading.

The key paragraph of the opinion is quoted here:

59. Although pro se litigants are not immune from such sanctions, see Unanue Casal v. Unanue Casal, 132 F.R.D. 146, 151 (D.N.J. 1989), aff’d, 898 F.2d 839 (3d Cir. 1990), this Court has noted that the standard for sanctions is “relaxed considerably when the offending party is unrepresented by counsel.” Talley v. City of Atlantic City, No. 04-1146, 2007 WL 2021792, at *4 (D.N.J. July 10, 2007) (Simandle, J.). This is because pleadings by pro se plaintiffs must first be read “with greater latitude and liberality,” and a pro se plaintiff “cannot reasonably be held to the same standards of knowledge of legal process as an attorney.” Id.; see also Bacon v. Am. Fed. of State, Cnty., and Mun. Empls. Council, No. 13, 795 F.2d 33, 35 (7th Cir. 1986) (“A layman cannot be expected to realize as quickly as a lawyer would that a legal position has no possible merit, and it would be as cruel as it would be pointless to hold laymen who cannot afford a lawyer . . . to a standard of care that they cannot attain even with their best efforts.”). Sanctions will be appropriate against a pro se plaintiff when she persists in a hopeless cause after her claims have repeatedly been rejected by court, because then, it should have been clear to her as a reasonable (though not law-trained) person that her cause was indeed hopeless. Talley, 2007 WL 2021792, at *4.

In sum, this motion for sanctions was filed too soon to be granted. It may have been used as a tool to encourage the pro se litigant to drop the claim. If so, that idea did not work.

Source: ROSS-TIGGETT v. REED SMITH LLP, Dist. Court, D. New Jersey 2016 – Google Scholar

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