MARY HUDDLE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Civil Action No. 88-3130 JHG RONALD WILSON REAGAN, et al., Defendants.
Plaintiffs have moved for the imposition of sanctions on the federal defendants' counsel, Assistant United States Attorney ("AUSA") Michael L. Martinez. For the reasons set forth below, that motion should be denied as frivolous.
Although plaintiffs do not articulate the provision under which they are proceeding, defendants assume they are seeking sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. Under Rule 11 an attorney or party certifies by his signature on a pleading or filing that he has read it and that to the best of [his] knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.
The district courts have wide discretion in applying these factors in making an ultimate determination of whether the
attorney or party that is the subject of a Rule 11 motion has acted with "reasonableness under the circumstances." Westmoreland v. CBS, Inc., 770 F.2d 1168, 1173-75 (D.C. Cir. 1985); MacArthur Area Citizens Assoc. v. Republic of Peru, 823 F.2d 606, 607 (D.C. Cir. 1987); Sherman Treaters Ltd. v. Ahlbrandt, 115 F.R.D. 519, 522-24 (D.D.C. 1987). See also Sanctions Under The New Federal Rule 11 A Closer Look, 104 F.R.D. 181 (1985).
A court, after reasonable inquiry, may impose sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 if the filing at issue is "(1) not well grounded in fact; (2) not warranted by existing law or good faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law; or (3) interposed for any improper purpose such as harassment or delay." Sherman Treaters, 115 F.R.D. at 523. As this Court has noted, the obligation imposed by Rule 11 is "to exercise due care in the preparation and filing of pleadings." Rowland v. Fayed, 115 F.R.D. 605, 607 (D.D.C. 1987).
Measured by these standards it is apparent that plaintiffs' request for sanctions should be denied. The object of plaintiffs' ire -- or perhaps more particularly of Mr. Thomas' ire -- is footnote 5 in defendants' reply memorandum filed on January 27, 1989. In that footnote the federal defendants assert that plaintiffs' reliance on religion in this case is "newly found" and that religious beliefs were not asserted as a basis for plaintiffs' actions until early 1987. The federal defendants stand by that assertion. It is not, as plaintiffs assert, a
"simple lie". The point of the footnote was to bring to the Court's attention the fact that it has only been since April 1987, when Judge Richey dismissed on religious grounds criminal informations against various of the plaintiffs for camping at Lafayette Park, that plaintiffs started regularly claiming religion as the basis for their actions in Lafayette Park. 1/
The statement was entirely reasonable and not misleading to the Court. Plaintiffs know full well that religion was not the focus of the earlier Thomas cases. Instead, Mr. Thomas chose to litigate those cases on his conspiracy claims and on his challenge to the validity of the regulations. This fact is borne out by the numerous motions and other papers filed in those cases, as well as by Judge Oberdorfer's two extensive opinions disposing of them, Thomas v. News World Communications, 681 F. Supp. 55 (D.D.C. 1988); Thomas v. United States, 696 F. Supp. 702 (D.D.C. 1988), none of which address religion. The fact that plaintiffs have now cited two isolated 1985 quotations mentioning religion, from the thousands of pages plaintiffs filed in those cases, does not undermine the federal defendants' assertion. Religion was simply never an issue that plaintiffs advanced or
1/ That dismissal was reversed by the Court of Appeals, United States v. Galindez, et al., Nos. 87-0060 through 87-0064 (D.C. Cir. Sept. 22, 1987), and the Thomases among others were subsequently convicted of violating federal regulations proscribing camping. See Fed. Defs' Exhibit 5.
that the defendants or the Court addressed in those cases. 2/
In light of this background it is clear that plaintiffs' request for sanctions should be denied since the footnote at issue is correct and because it was "reasonable[l under the circumstances" for the federal defendants to place it in their reply. Westmoreland, 770 F.2d at 1173-75. The footnote was "well grounded in fact" and plainly was not submitted in bad faith or "interposed for any improper purpose such as harassment or delay." Sherman Treaters, 115 F.R.D. at 523. 3/ Since plaintiffs have thus failed to meet their burden of demonstrating a Rule 11 violation, their motion should be denied.
2/ Plaintiffs are also incorrect that AUSA Martinez was involved in that case since 1985. In fact, AUSA Martinez entered his appearance in the first Thomas case on March 4, 1986.
3/ Indeed plaintiffs, in filing the Motion for Sanctions, appear to be engaging in harassment and thus potentially exposing themselves to Rule 11 sanctions. See Pfeifer v. Valukas, 117 F.R.D. 420, 423 (N.D. I11. 1987), in which the Court, in awarding Rule 11 sanctions against a litigious pro se plaintiff noted, "[p]laintiff's pro se status does not grant him an unfettered license to wage an endless campaign of harassment against these defendants or to abuse the judicial process. Nor does it relieve him of the duty to conduct the inquiries required by Rule 11."
For each of the foregoing reasons the federal defendants urge the Court to deny plaintiff's motion. A proposed Order is attached.
JAY B. STEPHENS, DC Bar #177840
United States Attorney
JOHN D. BATES, DC~Bar #934927
Assistant United States Attorney
MICHAEL L. MARTINEZ,/DC Bar #347310
Assistant United States Attorney
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
I HEREBY CERTIFY that this 17th day of February, 1989, I sent one copy of the foregoing Federal Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Sanctions or Other Disciplinary Action and proposed Order via first class U.S. mail to:
1440 N Street, NW. #410
Washington, D.C. 20005
Arthur Burger, Esquire
Assistant Corporation Counsel
Room 314 District Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Washington, D.C. 20004
MICHAEL L. MARTINEZ Bar #347310
Assistant United States Attorney
Judiciary Center Building
555 4th Street, NW. Room 4126
Washington, D.C. 20001