This is a fairly typical situation in litigation. The plaintiff, Redmonds Enterprise, Inc. sued CSX Transportation, Inc. for defamation and other related tort claims. The case grew out of a vandalism incident at a CSX rail yard. Redmonds alleged that a CSX employee sent an email that defamed Redmonds by blaming Redmonds for the vandalism. During discovery, it became apparent that the author of the email, Rick Omer, was not a CSX employee and there was apparently no evidence that he existed at all. Furthermore, there was no evidence that anyone at CSX sent a defamatory email to anyone about Redmonds. The court granted summary judgment in favor of CSX and dismissed the case.
CSX moved for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 and Section 1927. The district judge denied the sanctions motion. This is the key paragraph of the opinion:
While it is a close question, it is not clear that sanctions are warranted under either Rule 11 or § 1927, although the dilatory conduct of Redmonds’ non-local counsel, Mr. Jenkins, was irresponsible, to say the least. CSX argues that sanctions should be imposed because Redmonds refused to dismiss the case after the Orner email was not uncovered during discovery. But, there is no evidence to suggest Redmonds did not have a colorable basis for filing its complaint initially. Redmonds had experienced a decline in business, and had been told this decline was attributable to a defamatory email from a CSX employee. Refusal to dismiss the complaint after discovery is not a basis for Rule 11 sanctions. See Brubaker, 943 F.2d at 1381; Simpson, 900 F.2d at 36-37. After conducting discovery, Redmonds moved to amend its complaint to reflect new evidence uncovered during discovery. Although untimely and ultimately unsuccessful, filing this motion was not entirely baseless, nor an unreasonable multiplication of this proceeding under § 1927. The conduct of Redmonds’ counsel was not as “unreasonable and vexatious” as the attorney in Salvin, who continued proceedings after his own client’s deposition revealed that there was no basis to her claims, and indeed supported his opposition to the motion for summary judgment with an affidavit in which his client contradicted her own deposition testimony. See Salvin v. American Nat. Ins. Co.,281 Fed.Appx. 222, 225-26 (4th Cir. 2016). The delay in seeking leave to amend after it became clear the Orner email could not be found was irresponsible and, as explained above, was sufficient reason to deny the motion to amend. But the court cannot say it amounted to the bad faith that is required to support sanctions under § 1927. The motion for sanctions will be denied.
This is a very typical situation in a plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff believes he or she was wronged but the lawyer is unable to prove the allegations. The lawyer had a good faith basis for filing the case but the case was ultimately dismissed for a lack of proof.
One thought on “Defamation Claim Dismissed – But Plaintiff’s Lawyers Escape Sanctions”
Interesting case for defamation law.