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

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