Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Rule 11(c)(1) Sua Sponte Sanctions — Prior Issuance of Order to Show Cause Is Mandatory — Sending Email Identifying Court’s Concerns Not Enough, Requires Vacatur

Przybysz v. City of Toledo, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 23103 (6th Ciur. Aug. 20, 2018):

Marcia Przybysz appeals the district court's order awarding summary judgment to Sergeant Karrie Williams, the City of Toledo, and other officers named as defendants, and its order imposing sanctions. The parties have waived oral argument, and this panel unanimously agrees that oral argument is not needed. See Fed. R. App. P. 34(a).

Przybysz initiated these proceedings-alleging 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state-law wrongful death claims-after the death of her son, Thomas Przybysz. Prior to his death, Thomas had been an unpaid informant and had disclosed the name of his drug dealer, Scott Warnka, to the police. After Thomas told the police about Warnka, an undercover officer made two buys from Warnka, and the second resulted in Warnka's arrest. Shortly after his arrest, Warnka bonded out of custody, and Thomas began receiving threatening text messages from a phone number shared by Warnka and Jessica Kinsey, who had been with Warnka during the second buy. Thomas then told Williams about the text messages, and the two spoke on the phone about other [*2]  matters. Shortly after that, an associate of Warnka murdered Thomas. Przybysz asserted that Williams, the City, and the other defendants were responsible for Thomas's death.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Finding that Williams, the City, and the remaining defendants were entitled to summary judgment, the district court granted their motion and denied Przybysz's motion. The district court subsequently denied Przybysz's motion to alter or amend its judgment and imposed sanctions because it concluded that the motion was frivolous. This appeal followed.

Przybysz makes four arguments on appeal: (1) Williams was not entitled to summary judgment on Przybysz's § 1983 substantive due process claim; (2) the City was not entitled to summary judgment on Przybysz's Monell claim; (3) Williams was not entitled to summary judgment on the state-law wrongful death claim; and (4) the district court erred by imposing sanctions. To the extent she made other arguments below, she has abandoned them by failing to present those arguments on appeal. See Priddy v. Edelman, 883 F.2d 438, 446 (6th Cir. 1989) ("We normally decline to consider issues not raised in the appellant's opening brief.").


Finally, Przybysz challenges the district court's imposition of sanctions. Rule 11(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a district court may impose sanctions on its own for violations of Rule 11(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(1)-(2) (explaining that, by filing a motion, a party or her counsel represents that it is proper and nonfrivolous, among other things). Before doing so, however, a district court must first issue a show-cause order. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(3); Oakstone Cmty. Sch. v. Williams, 615 F. App'x 284, 288 (6th Cir. 2015) ("Under Rule 11(c) . . . issuing a show-cause order is a mandatory prerequisite to imposing monetary sanctions sua sponte." (emphasis omitted)). Here, the district [*11]  court did not enter a show-cause order. Although it emailed the parties about its concerns, that did not satisfy the "mandatory prerequisite" of Rule 11(c). And for that reason, we must vacate the district court's order imposing sanctions.

For these reasons, we AFFIRM the district court's order awarding summary judgment, but we VACATE its order imposing sanctions.


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