Trump v. Clinton is a purported RICO lawsuit filed by Trump attorneys against Hillary Clinton (who lost the 2016 Presidential Election) and a number of other defendants. It was dismissed with prejudice two months ago. One of the defendants, Charles Dolan, filed a motion for Rule 11 sanctions. The district court granted the motion with some stern words for Trump’s lawyers. Dolan was a mere volunteer for the Clinton campaign and did not have the roles that the complaint, and the amended complaint, alleged that he had.
The Court found that the allegations that Mr. Dolan was involved in a conspiracy to harm Donald Trump or his campaign were false and reckless. The court noted that the lawyers for Dolan sent a detailed warning letter to the attorneys for Trump explaining the various flaws with the Complaint. Instead of taking the letter seriously, the lawyers made a few cosmetic changes and filed an Amended Complaint. The court’s discussion of the Rule 11 warning letter is instructive:
The Warning Letter.
On May 31, 2022, counsel for Mr. Dolan wrote the attorneys for Mr. Trump. They warned:
1. That Mr. Dolan had no role in any conspiracy related to the Steele dossier.
2. That Mr. Dolan was not a source for the allegations of sexual activity.
3. That Mr. Dolan had not been in contact with any defendant other than Igor Danchenko, and that Mr. Dolan’s contacts with Mr. Danchenko involved business interests and help for a conference in Moscow.
4. That Mr. Dolan had never been chairman of the DNC.
5. That Ms. Clinton was on record through a spokesperson as stating she had no recollection of Mr. Dolan.
The court then noted that the Amended Complaint did not make material changes to the allegations against Dolan. Dolan moved for sanctions. The explanation for the decision to grant sanctions is well-written.
Rule 11 sanctions are properly assessed (1) when a party files a pleading that has no reasonable factual basis; (2) when the party files a pleading that is based on a legal theory that has no reasonable chance of success and that cannot be advanced as a reasonable argument to change existing law; or (3) when the party files a pleading in bad faith for an improper purpose. Massengale v. Ray, 267 F.3d 1298, 1301 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Worldwide Primates, Inc. v. McGreal, 87 F.3d 1252, 1254 (11th Cir. 1996)).
Here, all three are true. In Section A of this Order, I explain why the Amended Complaint lacked a reasonable factual basis as to the allegations against Defendant Dolan. Then, in Section B, I explain why Plaintiff’s legal arguments contained no reasonable chance of success. I have already done so, at great length and in great detail, in my Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. But I reiterate those fatal flaws here as relevant to the distinct Rule 11 inquiry. Finally, in Section C, I find that Plaintiff filed his pleadings for an improper purpose.
The order contains a lengthy discussion of the merits of the legal theories in the Complaint as additional bases for sanctions. The court ordered the lawyers for Trump to deposit $50,000 with the Court and pay Mr. Dolan’s legal fees in connection with the motion.
Comment: this is an example where the lawyer failed to conduct due diligence before making claims that were either false or baseless. Even after receiving a Rule 11 warning letter, the lawyers (at least according to the Court) failed to take any measures to correct the problems with the Complaint. Rule 11 requires due diligence and no lawyer should ever sign a pleading without doing that hard work. Don’t sign because the boss tells you to sign. Don’t sign to curry favor. Sign if the allegations are true and well-researched. In the end of the opinion, the Court indicated that other sanctions might be forthcoming.
Note: my apologies for the formatting issues that made the original post impossible to read.
Ed Clinton, Jr.