Inherent Power Sanctions for Filing 3rd & 4th Amended Complaints That Added 131 Pages of Text and 402 Pages of Exhibits Stating No New Claims and Only Marginally Pertinent to Existing Claims — Also, No RICO Causation
Mack v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 706 (11th Cir. Jan. 15, 2016):
Plaintiffs Olivia Jiheekim Mack ("Mack") and David Mack, proceeding pro se, appeal the district court's dismissal of Mack's amended complaint against Mack's employer, Delta Air Lines, Inc. ("Delta"), and against Sedgewick Claims Management Services, Inc. ("Sedgewick"). Plaintiffs also appeal the district court's grant of Defendants' motions for sanctions and denial of Plaintiffs' motion for sanctions. No reversible error has been shown; we affirm.
This case arises out of the denial of Mack's application for short-term disability insurance ("STDI") benefits. Mack declined SDTI [*2] benefits when she was first hired as a Delta flight attendant in 2007. When Mack later applied for SDTI benefits in October 2008, she was denied coverage because she was pregnant. Unable to qualify for SDTI benefits, Mack continued to work as a flight attendant during her pregnancy. Mack alleges that, as a result of her working on long international flights, she suffered from preeclampsia and high blood pressure -- putting both her and her unborn baby's health at risk.
Mack filed a charge of employment discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that she was discriminated against in violation of Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), and the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). After efforts to obtain a settlement failed, the EEOC issued Mack a right-to-sue notice.
On 9 April 2013, Mack filed this civil action against Delta and Sedgewick, the administrator of Delta's STDI program. In her initial complaint, Mack purported to assert against Defendants claims for violations of Title VII, the ADA, and the ADEA, and several state-law claims.
The district court dismissed as untimely the employment discrimination claims arising [*3] from Mack's EEOC charge and dismissed without prejudice Mack's remaining state-law claims. The district court also denied as futile Mack's four motions to amend the complaint but granted her leave to file an amended complaint that complied with federal pleading requirements.
Mack then filed the amended complaint pertinent to this appeal; she purported to assert against Defendants claims for Title VII retaliation, civil RICO, and state-law libel. The district court dismissed Mack's claim for failure to state a claim.
About Mack's civil RICO claim, Mack failed to allege with particularity that Defendants engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity. See McCulloch v. PNC Bank, Inc., 298 F.3d 1217, 1225 (11th Cir. 2002). In her amended complaint, Mack alleges that Defendants engaged in mail fraud by underpaying doctors intentionally so that the completion of medical-eligibility forms would be delayed. Even accepting this allegation as true, the alleged conduct is no "scheme to defraud another of money or property" and, thus, constitutes no mail fraud. [*8] See Pelletier v. Zweifel, 921 F.2d 1465, 1498 (11th Cir. 1991).3
3 Mack has also failed to allege sufficiently a causal connection between her injury and Defendants' alleged mail fraud. Mack contends she was denied STDI benefits based on her pregnancy, not because she failed to complete her paperwork on time.
We review for abuse of discretion the district court's exercise of its inherent power to impose sanctions. Sciarretta v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 778 F.3d 1205, 1212 (11th Cir. 2015). Under its inherent authority, a federal court may assess attorney's fees and costs against a party or his lawyer "when either has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons." Byrne v. Nezhat, 261 F.3d 1075, 1106 (11th Cir. 2001) (quotation omitted). A finding of bad faith is warranted, among other things, when a party "knowingly or recklessly raises a frivolous argument" or when a party delays or disrupts the litigation. Id. at 1121.
The record supports the district court's determination that Plaintiffs acted in bad faith in filing their third and fourth amended complaints. The third amended complaint was 86 pages long with 125 pages of exhibits; and the fourth proposed amendment sought to supplement [*11] the complaint with an additional 45 pages of pleadings and 277 pages of exhibits. Neither the third nor the fourth proposed amended complaints raised new claims against Defendants. Instead, the proposed amendments sought only to add new facts, arguments and exhibits, the bulk of which were not pertinent to or only tangentially related to Mack's earlier-asserted claims against Defendants. On this record, the district court abused no discretion in granting in part Defendants' motions for sanctions.
The district court also abused no discretion in denying Plaintiffs' motion for sanctions against Defendants or in denying Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration. Nothing evidences that Defendants acted in bad faith in asserting a preemption defense under ERISA.
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