Inherent Power Sanction of Dismissal Appropriate for Refusing to Respect the Dignity of the Court

From Koehl v. Greene, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 12345 (2d Cir. June 16, 2011):

The district court "has the inherent power to supervise and control its own proceedings and to sanction . . . a litigant for bad-faith conduct or for disobeying the court's orders." Mickle v. Morin, 297 F.3d 114, 125 (2d Cir. 2002). Among the sanctions available to the district court is the power to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.***

The district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that dismissal of the action was warranted as a sanction in light of Koehl's flagrant violation of the court's repeated orders to respect the dignity of the judicial proceeding. While discovery in this case was progressing, Koehl accused the district court in two separate letters of conspiring with the government to violate his constitutional rights and described the magistrate judge's refusal to assign him counsel as "twisted," "biased," and "straight from the Fascist Handbook." The magistrate judge issued an order informing Koehl that "such language is never tolerable" and warning him that "future abusiveness" could result in sanctions. Koehl nevertheless proceeded to file submissions in which he described the magistrate judge as "nothing more than a cheap, corrupt thug" and a "corrupt, stinking scumbag." Consistent with his prior warning, the magistrate judge entered an order of sanctions that closed the discovery period and directed the clerk of court to strike any future submissions that contained offensive language. Undeterred, Koehl then filed another document in which he accused the magistrate judge of "lying to hide his nefarious motives," of applauding "when plans were made to crash into our buildings," and of being "a judicial terrorist who is part communist and part fascist."***

The district court also appropriately concluded that dismissal was necessary given that lesser sanctions had been ineffective in compelling Koehl to comply with the court's orders. See S. New Eng. Tel. Co. v. Global NAPs Inc., 624 F.3d 123, 144 (2d Cir. 2010) (A dismissal sanction "is a drastic remedy generally to be used only when the district judge has considered lesser alternatives.") The record reveals that Koehl filed at least five submissions that contained insulting or inappropriate language following the magistrate judge's initial warning of future sanctions and at least two additional submissions containing such language following the magistrate judge's imposition of the strike order. Furthermore, the district court's finding that a monetary fine would not be an effective sanction was justified in light of Koehl's own defiant proclamation that he was indifferent to a fine because, as a prisoner, he earned only $2.25 per week.

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