Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Sanctions — 28 U.S.C. § 1927 & Pro Se Litigants

Unlike Rule 11, which expressly authorizes sanctions against an offending attorney, client or both, § 1927 does not apply to parties but only to "[a]ny attorney or other person admitted to conduct cases in any court of the United States...." Only lawyers may, therefore, be sanctioned under the statute. If a pro se litigant is a lawyer, the statute applies. Steinle v. Warren, 765 F.2d 95, 101–02 (7th Cir. 1985); Sassower v. Field, 973 F.2d 75, 80 (1992), cert. denied, 113 S. Ct. 1879 (1983) ("[s]ince Section 1927 is designed to curb abusive tactics by lawyers, it should apply to Atty. Sassower notwithstanding the fact that her only client in this matter was herself"). But pro se litigants who are not lawyers are not among those whom the statute reaches. Because § 1927 is strictly construed, unrepresented litigants are not deemed to be in the category of "other person[s] admitted to conduct cases." See, e.g., Sassower v. Field, 973 F.2d 75, 80 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 1043 (1993); 1507 Corp. v. Henderson, 447 F.2d 540, 542 (7th Cir. 1971) (citing numerous cases); Hill v. United States, 599 F. Supp. 118 (M.D. Tenn. 1984)). See also Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32 (1991) (recounting, without disagreeing, a district court's assertion that § 1927 "applies only to attorneys"). Two older Ninth Circuit cases erroneously hold, without analysis, that Section 1927 sanctions may be imposed on pro se litigants who are not lawyers (Wages v. I.R.S., 915 F.2d 1230, 1235–36 (9th Cir. 1990) and Wood v. Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, 699 F.2d 484 (9th Cir. 1983)), and occasionally these are still followed in that Circuit, not that the District Judges in the Ninth Circuit have much choice in the matter. See, e.g., the recent decision in Langley v. Brown, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29213 (D. Ariz. April 19, 2007). As a practical matter, this makes little difference because behavior sanctioned under Section 1927 is almost certainly sanctionable under another power. The jurisprudence of the Ninth Circuit would, however, be enhanced if this minor but erroneous thread of decision were corrected.

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