Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Federal Court May Not Generally Sanction a Party with an Injunction against Filing State Court Litigation — Party May Be Held in Contempt for Violating Order Only If It Is Unambiguous

From Lipin v. Sawyer, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 21009 (2d Cir. Oct. 12, 2010):

Plaintiff Joan C. Lipin, proceeding pro se, appeals from a judgment dismissing her constitutional and statutory claims against defendants and holding her in civil contempt with an attendant $5,000 fine for failure to comply with an August 2008 filing injunction.***

In In re Martin-Trigona, 737 F.2d 1254 (2d Cir. 1984), we held that the district court erred in issuing a filing injunction to the extent it included a "blanket extension of the injunction to state courts," because "[a]buse of state judicial processes is not per se a threat to the jurisdiction of Article III courts and does not per se implicate other federal interests." Id. at 1263. We upheld the injunction to the extent it required Martin-Trigona "to append pertinent informational materials to pleadings in state courts" and recommended that the district court

fashion an injunction prohibiting Martin-Trigona from bringing new actions in any tribunal without leave from the district court against persons who have encountered him in any capacity in litigation in the District of Connecticut or in this court, including, but not necessarily limited to, court personnel, counsel, and the families and professional associates of such persons.


As Lipin initially filed the complaint here at issue in state rather than federal court, In re Martin-Trigona compels us to conclude that the district court erred in dismissing her action based on a violation of the filing injunction. In ruling otherwise, the district court relied on the fact that the language of the filing injunction does not limit its application to any particular court and observed that the state action related to the Moose Pond property dispute that had triggered the filing injunction. We nevertheless conclude that In re Martin-Trigona does not permit a district court to enforce a blanket filing injunction against a party that requires her to seek permission from a federal district court before filing claim s in state court. *** What In re Martin-Trigona approved was an injunction that prohibited new actions in "any tribunal" against "persons who have encountered [plaintiff] in any capacity in litigation in the" federal district court. ***

Additionally, as the applicability of the filing injunction to state court filings was not clear and unambiguous from the language of the injunction, we are compelled to conclude that the district court exceeded its discretion in holding Lipin in contempt and imposing monetary sanctions for violating the injunction. See, e.g., Southern New Eng. Tel. Co. v. Global NAPs Inc., F.3d , , 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 17747, *54, 2010 WL 3325962, at *16 (2d Cir. Aug. 25, 2010) (noting that court may hold party in contempt for failure to comply with order only where order is "clear and unambiguous").

Share this article:


Recent Posts