A plaintiff’s attorney in New York recently challenged a federal court’s authority to order him to pay a $10,000 fine as a sanction for misconduct under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in a copyright infringement case. Southern District of New York Judge Denise Cote imposed the monetary sanction on attorney Richard L. pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules and the court’s inherent authority to manage its own affairs (Paul Steeger v. JMS Cleaning Services, LLC).
The alleged conduct for which Richard was sanctioned included failure to serve notice to the defense of a pretrial hearing as required by court order, which the judge accused Richard of having done on three other occasions in the southern district, and also failing to respond to the defendant’s settlement offer.
Shortly after the defendant complained of Richard’s conduct to the court, the parties reached a voluntary settlement in the case. As a result of the complaint, the judge issued Richard an order to show cause why he should not be sanctioned.
At issue in Richard’s motion for consideration was what the court is allowed to do under its inherent power and under Rule 11, which requires that no monetary sanction or order may be imposed against a party or its counsel after the litigants have reached a voluntary settlement.
Judge Cote noted, however, that she received the defendant’s complaints about Richard’s misconduct and issued the order prior to the case’s formal dismissal or settlement. Instead, Richard had notified the court only that the parties had reached a settlement “in principle.” The case was not dismissed pursuant to the settlement until four weeks later.
The judge accused Richard of a pattern of omissions and misrepresentations in the case and failing to adhere to standards expected of officers of the court. Continue reading