Month: June 2018

A Party Accuses Opposing Lawyer of Fraud on the Court and is Sanctioned.


This was an ill-fated employment lawsuit filed by a former employee against his former employer. The employer obtained summary judgment in its favor. A little over a year later, the plaintiff filed a Rule 60 motion to vacate the judgment on the ground that the defense lawyer had committed fraud on the court. The Seventh Circuit found that the Rule 60 motion was filed too late. Instead, the plaintiff should have challenged the employer’s evidence at the summary judgment stage. The Seventh Circuit also affirmed the grant of Rule 11 sanctions.

The reasoning:

We also review a district court’s grant of Rule 11 sanctions for an abuse of discretion. Northern Illinois Telecom, Inc. v. PNC Bank, N.A., 850 F.3d 880, 883 (7th Cir. 2017). To succeed, parties challenging sanctions need to show that “the district court based its decision on an erroneous view of the law or a clearly erroneous evaluation of evidence.” Id., citing Gastineau v. Wright, 592 F.3d 747, 748 (7th Cir. 2010); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c).

On appeal, attorney Davis summarizes his factual argument against the sanctions ruling this way: “It is redundant to continue discussing appeals, summary judgments, Rule 60(b) filings. The fact is that Appellant’s attorney did not rush to file a document that goes after the integrity of a fellow attorney.” As for law, he cites a 1993 district court case from Iowa that chastised the lawyer there for engaging in “bickering, haranguing, . . . general interference” and other examples of “Rambo Litigation.” See Van Pilsum v. Iowa State Univ. of Sci. & Tech., 152 F.R.D. 179, 180-81 (S.D. Iowa 1993) (adopting creative response under Rule 37 to discourage such discovery tactics). Neither of these points addresses whether or how the district court in this case abused its discretion in deciding to award sanctions against Davis personally.

We appreciate Mr. Davis’s initial hesitation before leveling fraud accusations at another lawyer. But he then went ahead and did just that, and without presenting any new evidence of fraud. He offered only inferences and innuendo drawn from the original summary judgment record. Rule 11 “requires counsel to read and consider before litigating,” which Davis claims to have done, but it also “establishes an objective test,” U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n, N.D. v. Sullivan-Moore, 406 F.3d 465, 470 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted), that asks whether the attorney engaged in “an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances” before filing a motion. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b). Davis makes no effort to explain how his investigations of the facts and law underlying the Rule 60 motion he filed were reasonable. The district court awarded sanctions for having to respond to this motion, and Davis has not advanced a coherent argument that shows how this grant was an abuse of discretion. We affirm the decision of the district court imposing sanctions.

via Kennedy v. SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC, Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2018 – Google Scholar

Plaintiffs win jurisdictional battle – case remanded to state court.


This case deals with the removal of lawsuits to federal court. The plaintiffs were represented by the defendant lawyers in the trial of a personal injury case. After a $32 million verdict was entered against them, they sued their former lawyers for legal malpractice. Plaintiffs filed their case in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Defendants removed the case. To remove they had to show that there was complete diversity of citizenship between the parties. The problem was that two defendants were citizens of Illinois. This would have defeated removal and required that the case be remanded to State Court. Defendants sought to overcome this burden by arguing that the plaintiffs fraudulently joined the two local defendants.

The district court disagreed and remanded the case to the Circuit Court of Cook County. The law is as follows:

The Seventh Circuit directs federal courts to interpret the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubts in favor of the plaintiff’s choice of forum in the state court. Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Ctrs., Inc., 577 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 2009). Under the fraudulent joinder doctrine, a court considering removal may “disregard, for jurisdictional purposes, the citizenship of certain non-diverse defendants, assume jurisdiction over a case, dismiss the non-diverse defendants, and thereby retain jurisdiction.” Id. at 763 (quoting Mayes v. Rapoport, 198 F.3d 457, 461 (4th Cir. 1999)). Fraudulent joinder exists if the plaintiff has made false allegations of jurisdictional fact, or if a claim against a non-diverse defendant has no chance of success. Poulos v. Naas Foods, Inc., 959 F.2d 69, 73 (7th Cir. 1992). Here, the defendants argue that the plaintiffs’ claims against Tannen and TLG have no chance of success.

Defendants seeking to remove a case from state court to federal court based on fraudulent joinder of a non-diverse defendant bear “a heavy burden.” Id. The test for fraudulent joinder is even more favorable to the plaintiff than the standard for deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Livingston v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., No. 09 C 2611, 2009 WL 2448804, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 6, 2009). Warren must show that, after resolving all issues of fact and law in favor of the plaintiffs, the plaintiffs cannot establish a cause of action against Tannen or TLG. Poulos, 959 F.2d at 73. The Court must determine whether there is “any reasonable possibility” that a state court would rule against Tannen or TLG. Id. Warren, however, need not negate “any possible theory” that the plaintiffs might allege in the future; “only [the] present allegations count.” Id. at 74.

The ruling is as follows:

As stated at the outset, defendants seeking removal that depends on a finding of fraudulent joinder face the very high burden of showing that the plaintiff’s case against the non-diverse defendants has no chance of success. The plaintiffs’ prospects for success against Tannen may well be dubious, but that is not enough to warrant disregarding those claims in assessing the Court’s jurisdiction. Because defendants Tannen and TLG and plaintiffs Dillon Transport and Dillon are all citizens of Illinois, complete diversity as required by Section 1332 does not exist. This Court, therefore, lacks jurisdiction over the case and grants the plaintiffs’ motion to remand. Because the Court lacks jurisdiction over this case, it will not address the Warren defendants’ motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. This case is remanded to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The court essentially ruled that there was a valid basis to include Tannen as a defendant in the case. Therefore, he was not fraudulently joined. Therefore, the court had no subject matter jurisdiction. Therefore, removal was improper and another foray into federal court proved shortlived.

via Dillon v. NAMAN, HOWELL, SMITH & LEE, PLLC, Dist. Court, ND Illinois 2018 – Google Scholar

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.