Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Sanctions — No Reversible Error in Sanctioning Counsel under Rule 11 for Statements at Trial Not Advocating Prior Written Submission Where Conduct Clearly Sanctionable under Inherent Power

Balerna v. Gilberti, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 4069 (1st Cir. Feb. 27, 2013):

Finally, Coppola makes a blanket challenge to his admonishment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b): While the court cited Coppola's conduct at trial as the reason for his admonishment, Rule 11(b) allows sanctions only for misconduct in presenting "a pleading, written motion, or other paper--whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it." The rule cannot be used to punish conduct at trial. Lamboy-Ortiz v. Ortiz-Vélez, 630 F.3d 228, 245 (1st Cir. 2010). With respect to Coppola's claims of conversion and criminal usury, his argument misses the mark because he did raise these claims in submissions to the court, and he continued to advocate them during the trial even after clear warnings by the judge. But Coppola appears not to have alleged in "a pleading, written motion, or other paper" that Gilberti made false statements. Although the court was not entitled to impose sanctions for this conduct under Rule 11(b), it would not have been an abuse of discretion for the court to invoke its inherent power to discipline Coppola. See Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44-45, 111 S. Ct. 2123, 115 L. Ed. 2d 27 (1991) ("A primary aspect of [a federal court's discretion to exercise its inherent powers] is the ability to fashion an appropriate sanction for conduct which abuses the judicial process."). Once the court concluded that the unremitting accusations of falsehoods were groundless, it was entitled to sanction counsel for pressing them. Therefore, no prejudice to Coppola resulted from the district court's reliance on Rule 11(b).

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