Sanctions Denied Where Lawyer Takes Affirmative Steps To Amend a Nonviable Claim

This is a case originally filed by a prisoner against prison medical staff for deliberate indifference. The lawyer for the prisoner plaintiff filed a complaint and an amended complaint. After he received the Defendants’ motion to dismiss, he sought leave to file a Second Amended Complaint that would correct the flaws in the first two complaints. The district court allowed the amendment and denied a Rule 11 motion for sanctions. The explanation is revealing:

Defendants fault Lashuay for filing two complaints—the original complaint and the first amended complaint—which contained claims Lashuay now admits were not viable. See Mot. Am. Compl. at 3 (“Upon reviewing Corizon Defendants’ Motion, Plaintiff determined that his gross negligence claims were not viable and further that he should have included a municipal liability claim against Defendant Corizon Health.”). But the grounds for Defendants’ opposition to those claims became apparent only after Defendants filed their motion to dismiss. In other words, Lashuay did not seek to advance manifestly nonmeritorious claims even after Defendants had indicated why they were nonviable. To the contrary, upon receiving notice of the defects in his first amended complaint, Lashuay immediately attempted to file a second amended complaint which corrected those shortcomings.

These kinds of amendments are not only anticipated but encouraged by the Federal Rules. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1)(B) authorizes a party to amend its pleading once as a matter of course in response to a motion to dismiss by the defendant (assuming the complaint has not already been amended). This Rule contemplates the common scenario where a plaintiff realizes defects in his claims only after a motion to dismiss is filed. The mere fact that a plaintiff attempted to advance nonmeritorious claims does not warrant Rule 11 sanctions (or denial of leave to amend).

Perhaps Defendants believe that Lashuay should have known that the claims advanced in its original and first amended complaints were nonmeritorious. But there is no evidence that the claims were advanced in bad faith, and the Court declines to sanction Lashuay for simply advancing nonmeritorious claims in the absence of additional evidence of culpability.

The quoted text demonstrates that the lawyer (a) reviewed the motion to dismiss and (b) sought to correct the problems with the Complaint as quickly as he could. He also was candid with the Court.

via LASHUAY v. DELILNE, Dist. Court, ED Michigan 2018 – Google Scholar

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