Category: False Allegations

Lawyer Burned For False Statements In Client’s Affidavit


This is a case where a lawyer was sanctioned pursuant to Rule 11 for false statements in his client’s affidavit. The affidavit was introduced in an effort to fight a change of venue motion. The court, after hearing, concluded that the client’s false statement was the fault of his lawyer and awarded sanctions.  In SyncPoint Imaging, LLC v. Nintendo of America, Inc. 15-cv-00247 pending in the Eastern District of Texas, the parties apparently became embroiled in a venue dispute. Plaintiff was represented by Joseph Pia. The client representative was Karl Hansen.

The court found that in resisting Nintendo’s venue motion, the plaintiff included false statements in an affidavit. The court entered a rule to show cause and held a hearing on the rule. The interesting issue is that the court absolved the client, who signed the false affidavit, from liability. The court reasoned that the client did not understand what he signed. The reasoning:

Here, representations about the alleged SyncPoint consultants were made in Paragraph 61 of Hansen’s declaration, which was submitted in response to Nintendo’s venue motion. Nintendo’s venue motion was brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Since “the availability of compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses” is a key factor in a § 1404(a) analysis, see In re Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 545 F.3d 304, 315 (5th Cir. 2008), the discussion of four potential witnesses — the SyncPoint consultants — in Paragraph 61 is a critical factual allegation.

Paragraph 61 is also a factual allegation that indisputably lacks evidentiary support. Two of the four nominal consultants had already declined to be involved with SyncPoint by the time the declaration was signed. Of the two remaining consultants, one had at most visited the SyncPoint office. Even if Dr. Thomas, Buechele, Vance, and Bland all agreed to visit SyncPoint’s office, Hansen’s email to Dr. Thomas indicates that the only “business” the alleged consultants were asked to conduct was picking up mail and making sure the server was still running. The declaration clearly implies that these four consultants conducted the business of SyncPoint and should thus be considered as potential witnesses. The email to Dr. Thomas is particularly concerning, as it makes clear that Hansen’s request was made solely to support venue, not to conduct SyncPoint’s business.

The Court finds that this email is necessarily the fault of Hansen’s attorney — Pia — not Hansen. Hansen’s email reflects what his lawyers must have told him to provide, since Hansen candidly admitted at the September 5, 2018 show cause hearing that he “didn’t know what matters in a venue.” Hr’g Tr. 21:16-23, [Dkt. No. 369].

Similarly, Paragraph 61 is also attributable to counsel. Pia admitted that he did not review Hansen’s declaration and never verified whether Dr. Thomas, Buechele, Vance, or Bland were truly SyncPoint consultants. This is especially troubling given that Pia had sufficient time to conduct a prefiling investigation into relatively straightforward factual contentions. In the month Pia took respond to Nintendo’s venue motion, Pia never investigated these venue facts. In fact, nearly three years later, the alleged consultants are still not known to Pia. While Pia advised the Court that he relied on a contract attorney to draft SyncPoint’s response to Nintendo’s venue motion, there has been no showing that the contract attorney was responsible for the misrepresentations in Paragraph 61, which was, in any event, made under Pia’s signature.[2] Thus, there is simply no excuse for Pia’s failure to make a reasonable inquiry into these critical factual representations. Pia violated Rule 11.

As to Hansen, however, the Court finds that he is not jointly responsible for the false allegations in this matter. Rule 11(c)(1) authorizes the Court to impose sanctions on Pia, as the violating attorney, and on Hansen, as the party potentially responsible for the violation. A client is responsible for a Rule 11 violation if the client “know[s] that the filing and signing [of a pleading, motion, or other paper] is wrongful.” In re Motion for Sanctions Against Meyers, No. 4:12-MC-015-A, 2014 WL 1494099, at *8 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 16, 2014), supplemented, No. 4:12-MC-015-A, 2014 WL 1910621 (N.D. Tex. May 9, 2014) (citing Calloway v. Marvel Entm’t Grp., a Div. of Cadence Indus. Corp., 854 F.2d 1452, 1475 (2d Cir.1988) rev’d in part sub nom Pavelic & LeFlore v. Marvel Entm’t Grp., 493 U.S. 120 (1989)). In appropriate instances, the Fifth Circuit has held both the attorney and client jointly and severally liable. See Jennings v. Joshua Indep. School Dist., 948 F.2d 194, 196 (5th Cir. 1991). Here, Hansen’s testimony makes clear that he was not aware of the importance of Paragraph 61 and the need for precision in its wording. Therefore, sanctions against Hansen are inappropriate.

The court concluded that plaintiff’s attorney, Joseph Pia, was responsible for the erroneous statements in the affidavit.

Because Pia violated Rule 11(b)(3), the Court now examines what sanctions are appropriate. See Jennings, 948 F.2d at 197 (citing Business Guides, Inc. v. Chromatic Commc’ns Ent., Inc., 498 U.S. 533, 541-47 (1991)). Sanctions may be imposed either on motion or sua sponte. On its own, the Court may order an attorney, law firm, or party to show cause why such conduct specifically described in the order has not violated Rule 11(b). Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(3).[3] If the Court determines that Rule 11(b) has been violated, the Court may impose an appropriate sanction on the attorney, law firm, or party responsible for the violation. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(1). The central purpose of court-imposed sanctions is to “deter baseless filings in district court.” Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 393 (1990).

Here, Pia’s admitted lack of diligence in investigating critical factual contentions represented to this Court is simply inexcusable. This matter has already concluded pursuant to the dismissal order, see [Dkt. No. 279]; [Dkt. No. 283], and there was no Rule 11 motion for sanctions. The Court is thus limited to imposing a nonmonetary sanction or a monetary penalty payable to the court. This Memorandum Opinion and Order shall serve as a public reprimand to Joseph G. Pia and an Order to him to submit a $1,000 fine payable to the Clerk of this Court within 30 days.

Comment: this decision is unusual because it puts the blame for a false statement in an affidavit squarely on the shoulders of the lawyer, not the client who signed the affidavit. This decision is an important reminder to be careful and prudent in practicing law. Don’t let a client say something that is not true – to the best of your ability.

Ed Clinton, Jr.

The Clinton Law Firm, LLC

A link to the decision is posted here. SyncPoint Imaging, LLC v. Nintendo of America, Inc.

Court Awards 9,000,000 for filing and refusing to drop hundreds of frivolous lawsuits


This is a decision awarding in excess of $9,000,000 in sanctions against two law firms that filed 1250 frivolous “Engle Progeny” product liability actions. Engle Progeny cases are injury lawsuits against tobacco companies. The sanctions were awarded pursuant to Rule 11 and 28 U.S.C. Section 1927.

The first award was of Rule 11 sanctions for 588 complaints filed for litigants who were deceased. The explanation:

The complaints filed in the 588 Actions were objectively frivolous. As the Eleventh Circuit observed, “any lawyer worth his salt knows [that] a dead person cannot maintain a personal injury claim.” In re Engle Cases, 767 F.3d at 1086-87. The complaints listing the 588 Pre-Deceased Plaintiffs alleged only a personal injury action— using the present or future tense in referring to the “Smoking Plaintiffs,” and asserting that they “have and will suffer” as a result of their disease. (E.g., Edwin Moody et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Case No. 3:08-cv-155-J-32HTS, Doc. 2, Complaint at ¶ 1.10). Nowhere did the complaints suggest that the smoker had died, and nowhere did they assert an alternative wrongful death or survival action. To the contrary, the concluding allegation in each complaint stated that each plaintiff’s injuries “are permanent and continuing and as such will be suffered into the future.” (E.g., id. at ¶ 11.1). These allegations were demonstrably false.

The complaints in the 588 Actions were also frivolous because Counsel lacked authorization to file or maintain them. “Perhaps the most basic factual contentions implicit in a complaint are that the plaintiff consents to the filing of suit and prays for the relief requested.” In re Deep Vein Thrombosis, No. MDL-04-1606 VRW, 2008 WL 2568269, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Jun. 24, 2008). The dead plaintiffs obviously could not have authorized Counsel to bring lawsuits on their behalf. Nor did Counsel have authorization from the Pre-Deceased Plaintiffs’ estates or their survivors because Counsel pled the complaints as personal injury actions on behalf of the Pre-Deceased Plaintiffs themselves. Therefore, “the most basic factual contention implicit” in the 588 personal injury complaints, i.e., that the plaintiff authorized and prayed for the relief requested, was untrue.

The court also awarded Section 1927 Sanctions for claims from nonsmokers and plaintiffs who did not live in Florida.

In the cases discussed below, the Court determines that Counsel multiplied the proceedings unreasonably and vexatiously by maintaining frivolous complaints in bad faith. Between 2011 and 2013, the Court learned that Counsel had filed dozens of Frivolous Actions (in addition to the 588 Actions). Counsel brought these Frivolous Actions without authorization or on behalf of non-smokers, people who never lived in Florida, and plaintiffs with previously adjudicated claims. The fatal defects in these actions surfaced not through voluntary disclosures from Counsel, but through alerts from Defendants, the hard work of the Temporary Special Master, and from the returned Court Questionnaires. Before the Court Questionnaire process, Counsel vigorously opposed any suggestion that someone should interview or question the plaintiffs. Counsel’s intransigence forced the Court to order Wilner to mail the Court Questionnaires to 2,661 plaintiffs and to have the Temporary Special Master review the results. The questionnaire process was time-consuming but necessary. It accomplished what Counsel would not: the identification of hundreds of frivolous cases, and the segregation of viable from non-viable claims.

In some of these cases, Counsel knew or must have known that a fundamental defect existed. As to others, Counsel acted with reckless indifference. Counsel insisted on maintaining cases without having bothered to obtain the plaintiff’s authorization, without having any basis for asserting that the plaintiff was even a smoker, and without knowing whether the alleged smoker ever lived in Florida (as required by Engle III). Moreover, Counsel’s resistance to the questionnaires and false assurances appeared calculated to prevent the discovery of such frivolous cases. At the very least, counsel’s behavior “grossly deviate[d] from reasonable conduct.” Amlong, 500 F.3d at 1240.

Counsel’s actions demonstrated a pattern of obfuscation and deception, which frustrated the Court’s efforts to rid the Engle Docket of frivolous cases and to promptly and fairly resolve the cases that had merit. Counsel’s maintenance of frivolous suits forced the Court to expend valuable resources—in terms of time, money, and manpower—to cope with the swollen Engle Docket. It also delayed the resolution of meritorious claims. As a result, sanctions are appropriate for the “excess costs” and “expenses . . . incurred because of [counsel’s] conduct.” 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

The court awarded a total of $9,164,404.12 against the two law firms that maintained the frivolous lawsuits.

Source: IN RE ENGLE CASES, Dist. Court, MD Florida 2017 – Google Scholar

Patient’s Truth in Lending Claim Against Surgeon Was Frivolous – Rule 11 Sanctions Awarded


The plaintiff entered into an agreement with the defendant for one of its doctors to repair a torn ACL in his knee. The agreement provided that the plaintiff would pay installment payments until the balance due was satisfied.

After the surgery, the plaintiff filed a Truth in Lending claim against the Defendant surgery practice. The Court found several bases under which Rule 11 sanctions were appropriate. First, the court noted that the plaintiff alleged that he paid some of the installment payments from his bank account. This allegation was false. The court notes:

As discussed in more detail below, Plaintiff’s counsel had no grounds to make these allegations, when simple investigation would have revealed that Defendant never received any further payment from Plaintiff because Plaintiff did not have sufficient funds in his bank account. Nonetheless, Plaintiff’s counsel brought Plaintiff’s claims not only on behalf of Plaintiff, but also alleged that Plaintiff could serve as an adequate representative of “a class of similarly-situated individuals” who suffered supposed injuries because “Defendant used these very same tactics on tens of other consumers . . . .” (Id. ¶¶ 5, 44).

The court held telephone conference with the lawyers and the plaintiff’s lawyer made further admissions detrimental to the case. The court found these admissions revealed that the case had no merit and that plaintiff’s counsel had not done any investigation to determine whether TILA applied.

Again the court explains:

These statements by Plaintiff’s counsel: (1) contradicted the factual allegations that Plaintiff had made further payments; (2) confirmed the allegation in paragraph 22 of the Complaint, cited above, that Plaintiff did not provide “written authorization” for any further payment; and (3) supports the Court’s conclusion that there was no “written agreement,” and that the arrangement between Plaintiff and Defendant was not an “extension of credit,” as required by law.

The statements by Plaintiff’s counsel above indicated that counsel may have secured Plaintiff’s financial records of his financial transactions with the Defendant, as had been ordered on October 28, 2016. Nonetheless, as further discussed below, later events showed that Plaintiff’s counsel had not done this.

On December 22, 2016, the Court dismissed the Complaint with prejudice[5] and sua sponte instituted Rule 11 proceedings to determine whether sanctions should be imposed against Plaintiff and/or his counsel. (ECF 23). In its Order, the Court stated its conclusion that “Plaintiff’s counsel filed this lawsuit without any regard to the requirements of the statute or the implementing regulations . . . [T]he lack of a finance charge or written agreement precludes any claims under TILA, as a matter of law.” 2016 WL 7411527.

Even at the time of the sanctions hearing, plaintiff’s counsel had not obtained the financial records necessary to prove up the claim.

The court found that plaintiff’s counsel had not done any investigation of the claim and concluded:

The Court finds that Plaintiff’s counsel violated Rule 11. There was no reasonable or suitable investigation by Plaintiff’s counsel as required under the standards of Rule 11. Under statutory language, regulations, and precedential opinions of the Third Circuit and other courts, there was no reasonable or legal basis to allege a “written agreement” or “extension of credit” under TILA and Regulation Z, individually or as a class action, particularly if a reasonable investigation had been conducted. Several complaint allegations were false, because of the failure to investigate.

Comment: this is a classic sanctions case in which the plaintiff’s attorney failed to conduct any investigation to determine if the claims had merit.

Source: WOLFINGTON v. RECONSTRUCTIVE ORTHOPAEDIC ASSOCIATES II, PC, Dist. Court, ED Pennsylvania 2017 – Google Scholar

District Court Awards Google and YouTube Sanctions For Frivolous Allegations


This is apparently an antitrust case against Google and YouTube, a subsidiary of Google. The plaintiff also included other allegations against the two defendants that the court deemed to be frivolous. Plaintiff alleged that the defendants conspire to “game” the view counts of certain videos posted on YouTube. There were also certain allegations that the defendants wrongfully remove “independent” music videos.

The court concluded that, although portions of the complaint stated a claim, these particular allegations violated Rule 11 and awarded sanctions. The court explained:

Defendants take issue with paragraphs 19(a), 22-24, 30, 38, 44, 91, 92, 103, 109 and 110 of Plaintiffs’ 3AC. Together, these paragraphs alleged that Defendants and their named executives agreed to permit certain record labels to game the view count without enforcement. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have no evidentiary basis for this theory. Plaintiffs respond that significant circumstantial evidence supported their theory. For example, the 3AC described very high view counts for certain videos, and noted that Defendants would have benefitted from such a conspiracy because they shared in advertising revenue. The Court concludes that it was baseless to allege that Defendants conspired to game view counts—the circumstantial evidence does not provide a basis for such an allegation. These allegations violate Rule 11.

Second, Defendants argue that, contrary to Plaintiffs’ allegations, YouTube has taken action against the alleged conspirator record labels. See 3AC ¶ 22 (alleging that “G-Y and the G-Y Executives refrain from 4H TOS enforcement action against the Major Labels and the other Conspiring Entities”). Publicly-available information demonstrates that Plaintiffs’ counsel could not have undertaken an objectively reasonable inquiry before presenting this allegation. For example, Defendants submit an online news article entitled: “YouTube cancels billions of music industry video views after finding that they were fake or `dead,'” discussing a video by Rihanna, a Universal artist. Haas Dec. Ex. 5. Huffington Post published a similar story the following day. Id. Ex. 6. Paragraph 22 violates Rule 11.

Third, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have insufficient factual support for their allegations regarding Google and YouTube executives’ actions. Plaintiffs make two arguments in response. They argue that David Drummond’s inaction following Plaintiffs’ counsel’s May 12, 2014 letter to him outlining the sequence of events giving rise to their legal claims could be construed as evidence of his and others’ prior awareness of the conspiracy. See Docket No. 101-9. The lack of response to this letter does not serve as a basis for Plaintiffs’ specific claims about Defendants’ executives’ participation in and knowledge of a view count gaming conspiracy. Next, Plaintiffs argue that, if there were a conspiracy, it must have been at the direction of senior management. However, as explained above, there was no basis to allege the view count gaming conspiracy. For these reasons, the allegations pertaining to the actions and knowledge of particular Google and YouTube executives violate Rule 11.

The court also discussed other examples of false allegations in the complaint. The court then awarded the defendants their costs and legal fees in bringing the motion for sanctions. Obviously, when battling a powerful defendant such as Google, which has access to excellent lawyers and has first class discovery technology tools available to it, a lawyer must be exceedingly careful to make sure that allegations are well-grounded in fact before they are pleaded. These plaintiffs lawyers apparently failed to do that and were sanctioned as a result.

Source: SONG FI, INC. v. GOOGLE, INC., Dist. Court, ND California 2016 – Google Scholar