Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Sanctions — No Abuse of Discretion in Denying Hearing — Ability to Brief and Submit Evidence via Affidavit Satisfies Due Process

Lambright v. Ryan, 698 F.3d 808 (9th Cir. 2012):

In Lambright III, we remanded to the district court with instructions to "resolve any disputed factual questions and make factual findings regarding the circumstances surrounding, and the extent and effect of, the violation" of the protective order prior to determining "whether sanctions are warranted." 359 F. App'x at 840. On remand, the court ordered supplemental briefing from Respondents to explain the violation of the protective order and any prejudice that resulted from such violation, and afforded Lambright an opportunity to respond. After considering the supplemental briefing and affidavits submitted by the Arizona Attorney General's Office, the court held that "neither discovery nor a hearing are necessary because there are no disputed issues of material fact." The court noted that Lambright would like the opportunity to cross-examine the Arizona Attorney General's Office to verify their story, but, after considering the challenges to their credibility raised by Lambright, found that "there is no basis for questioning the affiants' veracity and holding a hearing to have counsel restate what is already in their affidavits would be a waste of time and resources." The court thus determined that it had "sufficient knowledge of the facts to consider" the motion for sanctions. Considering those facts, the court found that Respondents "violated the plain language of the protective order when they provided materials obtained through the discovery process to the Pima County Attorney without first seeking modification of the protective order," but that this was done "without willful intent to disobey" the order. Finally, the court determined that an order directing Respondents to retrieve the materials subject to the protective order was an appropriate sanction because "such sanction will restore the parties to the position they were in had Respondents not violated the protective order."

"When necessary, the district court may hold an evidentiary hearing on a motion for sanctions." Wyle v. R.J. Reynolds Indus., Inc., 709 F.2d 585, 592 (9th Cir. 1983). Hence, the district court has the discretion, but is not required, to hold an evidentiary hearing prior to imposing sanctions on a party. Indeed, in cases in which the sanctioned party argued that it was deprived of due process because the district court failed to conduct an evidentiary hearing, where the standard is necessarily higher than it is here, as Lambright does not raise a due process argument, we have held that "[t]he opportunity to brief the issue fully satisfies due process requirements." Pac. Harbor Capital, Inc. v. Carnival Air Lines, Inc., 210 F.3d 1112, 1118 (9th Cir. 2000).

Here, both parties were afforded an opportunity to fully brief the sanctions issue. Respondents submitted evidence to support their arguments that the violation of the protective order was inadvertent and did not cause prejudice, and Lambright had the opportunity to challenge that evidence and present his arguments in support of his position. The district court gave careful consideration to all of the evidence and arguments raised by the parties, and ultimately concluded that the material facts were not disputed and that, although Respondents violated the protective order, such violation was inadvertent and thus a severe sanction was not warranted. Instead, the court determined that ordering Respondents to retrieve the file from the Pima County Attorney's Office was an appropriate sanction because it returned the parties to the same position they were in prior to the violation. The district court did not commit an error of law, and we cannot say that its findings were "(1) illogical, (2) implausible, or (3) without support in inferences that may be drawn from the facts in the record." Hinkson, 585 F.3d at 1262 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion in failing to hold an evidentiary hearing prior to the imposition of sanctions on Respondents for violating the protective order.

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