812 F.2d 984 (5th Cir. 1987), 86-4480, Thomas v. Capital Sec. Services, Inc.

Docket Nº86-4480
Citation812 F.2d 984
Party NamePatricia THOMAS, Bernadine Doss, Georgia Evans, and Rose Clark, Individually and on Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. CAPITAL SECURITY SERVICES, INC., Defendant-Appellant.
Case DateMarch 20, 1987
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 984

812 F.2d 984 (5th Cir. 1987)

Patricia THOMAS, Bernadine Doss, Georgia Evans, and Rose

Clark, Individually and on Behalf of All Others

Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

CAPITAL SECURITY SERVICES, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

No. 86-4480

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 20, 1987

Page 985

M. Curtiss McKee, Jackson, Miss., for defendant-appellant.

Deborah A. McDonald, Mary Brown, Natchez, Miss., Willie L. Rose, McComb, Miss., plaintiffs-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi (William H. Barbour, Jr.)

Before CLARK, Chief Judge, GARWOOD and HILL, Circuit Judges.

Page 986

ROBERT MADDEN HILL, Circuit Judge:

Capital Security Services, Inc., (Capital) appeals complaining that the district court erred in denying it attorney's fees as sanctions against the plaintiffs Patricia Thomas, Bernadine Doss, Georgia Evans, and Rose Clark, and their attorneys. For reason stated below, we affirm in part and vacate in part and remand.

I.

This appeal springs from an employment discrimination action brought by the plaintiffs against their former employer Capital. The plaintiffs were all security officers for Capital when they were discharged from their positions in October 1983. Shortly after their discharges each plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An EEOC investigation was begun in February 1984, and plaintiffs were issued a right-to-sue letter in August 1984.

On October 19, 1984, the plaintiffs filed suit alleging that Capital carried out a wide variety of racially- and sexually-motivated discriminatory practices in such areas as hirings, promotions, terminations, and on-the-job treatment. The plaintiffs also alleged a class action in favor of all similarly-situated black women who were, had been, or would be employed by Capital. The plaintiffs' actions were based upon alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981, and the Thirteenth Amendment.

Following initiation of the action, the plaintiffs attempted some limited discovery in regard to the putative class action. After receiving Capital's responses to interrogatories, the plaintiffs' counsels chose not to request a class certification and the case proceeded as a consolidated action by four plaintiffs. In January 1986 the district court granted in part Capital's motion for summary judgment. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' Thirteenth Amendment claims and limited the plaintiffs' Title VII and section 1981 claims to whether they had been terminated or treated differently during employment on the basis of race or sex.

After a three-day trial, the district court found for Capital on all grounds. While the plaintiffs' Title VII and section 1981 claims survived Capital's motion for directed verdict, the district court found that Capital had established a non-discriminatory reason, i.e., economic downturn, to support the discharge of each plaintiff. Final judgment was entered March 7, 1986. The plaintiffs appealed this judgment, but we affirmed the district court's decision in an unpublished opinion. Thomas v. Capital Security Service, 802 F.2d 453 (5th Cir.1986) (mem.).

On April 7, 1986, after the plaintiffs had appealed the case-in-chief to this court, Capital requested an award of attorney's fees against the plaintiffs and their attorneys. Capital's motion was based upon Fed.R.Civ.P. 11, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1927, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000e-5(k), and the inherent equitable powers of the district court. Capital asserted that an award was appropriate because the plaintiffs and their attorneys had expanded their judicial allegations far beyond the scope of their EEOC complaints, filed a class action but failed to later certify the class, withdrew from settlement negotiations, and added seven new witnesses to the court's pretrial order two weeks before trial; Capital also asserted that plaintiffs' attorneys prosecuted the action in a mistaken belief that they were required to act in only subjective good faith and presented irrelevant evidence at trial.

On June 10, 1986, the district court denied the motion. While denying the motion, the court noted that the situation presented a close question. Most of the court's discussion centered upon whether the plaintiffs and their attorneys had violated Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. The court noted that the broad or "shotgun" allegations contained in the plaintiffs' complaint appeared to evidence a lack of inquiry by the plaintiffs' attorneys into the law and supporting facts. The court, however, stated that it was reluctant to impose sanctions because of the unsettled nature of the law

Page 987

in regard to the breadth of a judicial complaint based upon a narrower EEOC complaint. On July 8 Capital perfected an appeal to this court challenging the denial of its motion for attorneys fees.

II.

Since federal courts are forums of limited jurisdiction, we first address, sua sponte, whether the district court had jurisdiction to consider the motion for attorney's fees/sanctions in light of the plaintiffs' prior appeal of the case-in-chief. As a general rule the effective filing of a notice of appeal transfers jurisdiction from the district...

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