Inherent Power Sanctions Require Specific Finding of Bad Faith Or Willful, Deliberate Disobedience of Court Order — Finding of Recklessness or Bad Faith Essential — Ignoring Court Order after Retention Ends, Without More, Does Not Suffice

Edwards v. Alameda-Contra Costa Transit Dist., 2020 WL 1131260 (9th Cir. Mar. 9, 2020) (unpublished):

MEMORANDUM*

*1 Appellant Darion Edwards appeals the district court’s imposition of sanctions against his attorney, Mr. Na’il Benjamin, pursuant to its inherent authority and 28 U.S.C. § 1927 for failing “to follow [c]ourt orders and fail[ing] to keep his client adequately informed of the post-trial proceedings.” The district court found “not credible” Mr. Benjamin’s explanation “that even though he had agreed to represent Mr. Edwards through the trial, for some appellate purposes and in related state court litigation, he had not agreed to represent Mr. Edwards in any post-judgment proceedings.” The district court noted that “Mr. Benjamin admitted that he received the [c]ourt’s orders through ECF noticing but argues that he did not need to review them because judgment had been entered.” The district court then entered sanctions against Mr. Benjamin in the amount of $805.00 “to compensate the defendants for ... the fees defense counsel reasonably incurred in preparing for and attending” the post-judgment conference that Mr. Benjamin and his client failed to attend.

 “A specific finding of bad faith ... must ‘precede any sanction under the court’s inherent powers.’ ” United States v. Stoneberger, 805 F.2d 1391, 1393 (9th Cir. 1986) (quoting Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 767 (1980)). Or, alternatively, a district court must find that counsel willfully disobeyed a court order. Evon v. Law Offices of Sidney Mickell, 688 F.3d 1015, 1035 (9th Cir. 2012). Although an inherent powers sanction based on disobedience of a court order does not require a finding of bad faith, it does require a finding that counsel “acted deliberately.” Id. The imposition of any sanction under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 must be accompanied by a finding that the sanctioned attorney “acted recklessly or in bad faith” or committed intentional misconduct. Barnd v. City of Tacoma, 664 F.2d 1339, 1343 (9th Cir. 1982).

 

Here, the district court made no finding that Mr. Benjamin acted recklessly or in bad faith, that he committed intentional misconduct, or that he willfully disobeyed a court order. We therefore vacate and remand the case. See Barnd, 664 F.2d at 1343. We note that Mr. Benjamin could benefit from taking responsibility for his failure to monitor electronic notices in the case after judgment was entered. We also recommend that, on remand, the district court reconsider whether Mr. Benjamin’s conduct warranted the imposition of sanctions under applicable standards.

 

VACATED AND REMANDED.

 

All Citations

--- Fed.Appx. ----, 2020 WL 1131260 (Mem)

Footnotes

 

**

 

The Honorable Stephen J. Murphy, III, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, sitting by designation.

 

 

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