This is an unpublished opinion, Estrada v. FTS USA, LLC, No. 18-15336 (11th Cir. April 20, 2020), the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a $60,000 Rule 11 sanctions award against lawyers who included a false allegation in their complaint.
The explanation follows:
The district court imposed sanctions under Rule 11(b)(3) because it found that Mr. Zidell and his firm filed a Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) complaint making the objectively frivolous allegation that FTS had “never” paid their client, Orlando Estrada, “any” overtime wages as required by the Act. The district court found this allegation demonstrably false because (1) FTS’s weekly time records—signed by Mr. Estrada—showed that FTS had paid him overtime wages during the months in question, and (2) Mr. Estrada acknowledged in his deposition that he had been paid the overtime wages documented in his earnings statements. The district court explained that Mr. Zidell and his firm did not conduct a reasonable investigation into Mr. Estrada’s claims and neglected to withdraw or modify the allegation in question when given the opportunity….
Continuing to lean on the language of the complaint, Mr. Zidell and his firm contend that satisfying the pleading requirements to state an FLSA claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 render sanctions inappropriate here. This argument fails to advance Mr. Zidell and his firm’s position. The factual allegations required under Rule 8 “are subject to Rule 11’s command—under pain of sanctions—that `the allegations and other factual contentions have, or are likely to have following discovery, evidentiary support.'” Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1216 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 11(b)). Therefore, alleging facts sufficient under Rule 8 does not shield the pleading from Rule 11 scrutiny when the allegations are objectively frivolous. Said another way, the magistrate court sanctioned Mr. Zidell and his firm not because the wording of the complaint failed to state a claim, but instead because the allegation as worded objectively lacked evidentiary support.
Second, Mr. Zidell and his firm assert that their factual claim was not objectively frivolous because Mr. Estrada was also alleging that he was not paid “all” of the overtime wages to which he was entitled. This argument, however, ignores the fact that the unsupported factual allegation—that FTS “never” paid Mr. Estrada “any” overtime wages—was never withdrawn, and FTS was forced to defend against it. The assertion by Mr. Zidell and his firm that their case for Mr. Estrada “just . . . did not pan out,” see Appellant’s Br. at 32, does not show an abuse of discretion.
The court affirmed an award of $60,000 in sanctions, which was about 1/2 of the requested amount. A dissenting judge would remand for a full hearing on the reasonableness of the fee request.
Should you have an issue under Rule 11, do not hesitate to contact me.
Ed Clinton, Jr.