852 F.2d 148 (5th Cir. 1988), 88-2179, Port Drum Co. v. Umphrey

Docket Nº:88-2179
Citation:852 F.2d 148
Party Name:PORT DRUM COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Walter UMPHREY and Kurt B. Chacon, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 16, 1988
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 148

852 F.2d 148 (5th Cir. 1988)

PORT DRUM COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Walter UMPHREY and Kurt B. Chacon, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 88-2179

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 16, 1988

Marian S. Rosen, Houston, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

Russell Serafin, Robert Davee, Mills, Shirley, Eckel & Bassett, Galveston, Tex., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Before POLITZ, KING and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge:

Port Drum Co. ("Port Drum") filed this suit seeking damages and declaratory relief against Walter Umphrey and Kurt Chacon, two attorneys who had maintained a wrongful death suit in federal court. Although Port Drum was never a party to that action, it asserts that federal law grants it a private cause of action to enforce Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. 1 Under Port Drum's

Page 149

unique and imaginative theory, injured third parties derive from Rule 11 a private cause of action to enforce an attorney's professional duties. For reasons stated for the most part in the district court's opinion dismissing Port Drum's suit, we reject this novel legal argument.


The instant case arises from a previous lawsuit wherein Umphrey and Chacon, attorneys, represented the estate of Jimmy Sterling Smith. The decedent had been an employee of Port Drum whose job responsibilities included the cleaning of chemical residue from used drums. Umphrey and Chacon filed a lawsuit on behalf of the estate and against the chemical manufacturers, alleging that the exposure to their chemical residues caused Smith's death. Port Drum was never made a party to the wrongful death suit, nor did it ever intervene in that action. In the instant suit, Port Drum alleges that certain businesses, named defendants in the estate's lawsuit, have notified Port Drum that they will no longer do business with Port Drum because they were sued in the first lawsuit. Port Drum alleges that Umphrey and Chacon repeatedly violated Fed.R.Civ.P. 11, and focuses on an amended complaint that added 52 defendants who had never done business with Port Drum.

Port Drum asserted jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2201 (the Declaratory Judgment Act), 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1331 (establishing federal question jurisdiction), and Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. The district court held that none of these provisions supplies subject matter jurisdiction for federal courts to entertain private causes of action to enforce Rule 11. 119 F.R.D. 26 (E.D.Tex.1988). We agree with the court's lucid opinion, which rejects section 2201 and Rule 11 as bases for subject matter jurisdiction and holds that the construction of Rule 11 does not present a "federal question" for purposes of conferring jurisdiction under section 1331. Id. at 27-28.


Section 1331 confers federal jurisdiction in actions "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." It is true that a federal rule of civil procedure "has the force of a federal statute." Sibbach v. Wilson & Co., 312 U.S. 1, 13, 61 S.Ct. 422, 426, 85 L.Ed. 479 (1941). The question before us, however, is not whether the rules can be enforced, as...

To continue reading