Yes, in federal court, either party can be sanctioned for its conduct during a lawsuit. Sanctionable conduct must be pretty egregious. National law firm, Littler Mendelson requested sanctions against a plaintiff who lost a summary judgment motion. Elaine Barley had sued Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Ms. Barley alleged that Fox did not accommodate her disability of asthma. In moving for summary judgment, the employer argued that Ms. Barley could not claim she could work with accommodation, since she had applied for Social Security disability saying she could not work. The U.S. district court granted summary judgment on that basis.
But, after winning the summary judgment motion, Littler Mendelson then moved for sanctions. The defense firm cited Federal Rule 11 and said Ms. Barley should have known much sooner that her case would not succeed. Its a frivolous motion under most standards. But to make matters worse, the defense firm redacted or blacked out almost every line of his affidavit. As part of his Rule 11 motion, the defense lawyer must list in detail the work performed for the client. The more detail, the better for the request. Fox requested some $126,000 in attorney’s fees. Yet, the defense firm reeducated almost every line. Asking for $126,000, there were many, many lines to redact.
So, Judge Dalzell responded with his own sanctions. He sanctioned the law firm for filing vexatious motions with the intention to harass the plaintiff. Filing such a motion makes little sense. The employer has already won. To then file a motion which is mostly redacted suggests pure harassment. The plaintiff could not respond to the request for attorney’s fees, because it could not identify what the defense lawyers had done. The judge said the motion was so deficient that it was filed for the purpose of harassing the already defeated plaintiff. The defense lawyer mentioned in a footnote that he could provide more detailed information later. But, said the Judge, it is too late. That ship has sailed. The defense lawyers guarded their services as if they were “top-secret information involving national security,” said the court.
The Judge awarded sanctions under Section 1927. Richard Harris, the lead lawyer, said they would appeal. See ABA Bar Journal report.
My guess is the defense lawyer wanted to punish the plaintiff and just did not have time to prepare a proper affidavit with good detail. Or, he may have inflated the bill to his client so much that he did not have time to clean it up. In any event, he should not have filed such a deficient motion.