Court Dismisses Campaign Donor’s Lawsuit Against former Congressman Schock – But Sanctions Are Denied

Howard Foster made a campaign contribution to former Congressman Aaron Schock. After Schock resigned, Foster sued Schock under RICO and other legal theories. Foster claimed that he was defrauded because Schock claimed to be an honest politician, but was not honest. Foster also alleged theories of common law fraud and promissory estoppel. Schock moved to dismiss on the ground that the statements were mere puffery in campaign literature and that Foster did not allege the elements of fraud. The district court agreed and dismissed the complaint.

However, because Foster’s theory of liability was “novel,’ no sanctions were awarded. The Court explains:

Finally, Schock asks that Foster be sanctioned pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for filing his amended complaint. Rule 11(b) provides that the filing of any pleading, motion, or other paper constitutes a certification that the filing is not being presented for an improper purpose, such as harassment or delay, and that its legal contentions are warranted by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for modifying or reversing existing law or establishing new law. A party or attorney violating this rule is subject to sanctions under Rule 11(c).

Schock argues that Foster’s amended complaint suffers from the same deficiencies as the original complaint, and that there was no proper purpose for Foster to replead the same allegations previously found to be insufficient. But Foster’s amendment did add specificity not present in the original complaint: rather than generalized assertions of misleading statements, the amended complaint identified parties, dates, and transmission methods of six specific communications. As described above, while the Court’s determination that the prior complaint was insufficient turned on a lack of specificity, the present ruling addresses the non-actionable substance of the communications. Both parties have described the theory underlying Foster’s claims as novel, and Schock has cited no authority rejecting similar allegations that would have alerted Foster that his claims were futile. Because Rule 11 “is not intended to chill an attorney’s enthusiasm or creativity in pursuing factual or legal theories,” an attorney need not advance a winning argument to avoid Rule 11 sanctions. LaSalle Nat’l Bank of Chicago v. Cty. of DuPage, 10 F.3d 1333, 1338 (7th Cir. 1993) (quoting Brubaker v. City of Richmond, 943 F.2d 1363 (4th Cir. 1991)). Foster’s filing of an amended complaint is not a proper basis for Rule 11 sanctions here and that request is denied.

Source: Foster v. Schock, Dist. Court, ND Illinois 2017 – Google Scholar

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