915 F.2d 965 (5th Cir. 1990), 90-2097, Willy v. Coastal Corp.

Docket Nº:90-2097
Citation:915 F.2d 965
Party Name:Donald J. WILLY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. The COASTAL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:October 26, 1990
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 965

915 F.2d 965 (5th Cir. 1990)

Donald J. WILLY, Plaintiff-Appellant,


The COASTAL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 90-2097

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

October 26, 1990

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc

Denied Nov. 27, 1990.

Michael A. Maness, Houston, Tex., for plaintiff-appellant.

Robert C. DeMoss, James L. Reed, Jr., Looper, Reed, Ewing & McGraw, J. Richard Hammett, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard,

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McPherson & Hand, Houston, Tex., for Coastal Corp., et al.

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

Before KING, GARWOOD, and DUHE, Circuit Judges.

DUHE, Circuit Judge:

The appellant Donald Willy challenges the district court's imposition of sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Willy contends the district court lacked jurisdiction to impose these sanctions, and that they are excessive and unreasonable. Finding no merit in these contentions, we affirm.

Facts and Proceedings Below

Willy, a Houston attorney, filed suit in state court against Coastal, his former employer, alleging that his discharge was in violation of Texas law prohibiting retaliatory firing. Coastal removed asserting that federal employment statutes constituted an essential element of Willy's claim. Willy moved to remand, challenging the basis for federal question jurisdiction. In response to Coastal's 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the case, Willy filed a 110-page motion for summary judgment and submitted 1200 pages of unindexed, unorganized supporting material. After two separate hearings, the district court granted Coastal's 12(b)(6) motion for dismissal of the federal claims, dismissed the state law claims for lack of pendant jurisdiction, and granted Coastal's motion for Rule 11 sanctions against Willy and his attorney.

On appeal, this court ruled that the suit was improvidently removed and remanded the matter to the state court in which the action was initially filed. 1 However, we affirmed the award of Rule 11 sanctions and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings in accordance with this court's intervening decision in Thomas v. Capital Security Services, Inc., 836 F.2d 866 (5th Cir.1988) (en banc). 2

On remand, the district court concluded that Willy and his attorney should be assessed $19,307 in Rule 11 sanctions. 3 The district court further ruled that Coastal and the other defendants had repeatedly notified Willy and his attorney of their transgression to no avail. Willy filed a Rule 59 motion for relief from this judgment, which was denied. This appeal followed.

Rule 11 Jurisdiction

Willy contends that because the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the merits of his claim, it was similarly without jurisdiction to impose Rule 11 sanctions. He argues that Rule 11 does not confer its own jurisdiction, and federal courts possess no "inherent power" to impose sanctions when subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. We reject this argument.

As the appellant correctly notes, constitutional limitations on the exercise of federal jurisdiction can be neither "disregarded nor evaded." Owen Equipment and Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374, 98 S.Ct. 2396, 2403, 57 L.Ed.2d 274 (1978). However, federal courts are entitled to exercise inherent powers, those considered "necessary to the exercise of all others." Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 764, 100 S.Ct. 2455, 2463, 65 L.Ed.2d 488 (1980), citing United States v. Hudson, 7 Cranch 32, 34, 3 L.Ed. 259 (1812). We believe the imposition of Rule 11 sanctions, consistent with Congress' intent to streamline

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the administration of federal justice, 4 constitutes such an inherent power.

Although the appellant maintains that Rule 11 jurisdiction is dependent on subject matter jurisdiction, the Supreme Court in Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., --- U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 2447, 110 L.Ed.2d 359 (1990), the seminal case on Rule 11 sanctions, teaches otherwise. Characterizing the decision to sanction as a collateral one, the court concluded:

Like the imposition of costs, attorney's fees, and contempt sanctions, the imposition of a Rule 11 sanction is not a judgment on the merits of an action. Rather, it requires the determination of a collateral issue: whether the attorney has abused the judicial process, and if so, what sanction would be appropriate.

Id. 110 S.Ct. at 2456. 5

This circuit and others have recognized that to effectuate the goals of Rule 11, a district court must possess the authority to impose sanctions irrespective of the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. In Vatican Shrimp Co. v. Solis, 820 F.2d 674 (5th Cir.), cert. den. 484 U.S. 953, 108 S.Ct. 345, 98 L.Ed.2d 371 (1987) and News-Texan, Inc. v. Garland, 814 F.2d 216 (5th Cir.1987), both involving improvidently removed suits, this court concluded that review of Rule 11 sanctions was available even when the district court which imposed them was without subject matter jurisdiction. 6

The appellant attempts to distinguish these cases on the basis that the sanctioned parties in each were attempting to invoke rather than resist federal jurisdiction. We find no merit in this distinction. Willy and his attorney were sanctioned for objectionable conduct which was independent of his jurisdictional posture in the case. Willy was entitled to contest removal jurisdiction to the extent a reasonable interpretation of the law allowed such a contest. However, this right did not include the authority to file misleading or incomprehensible pleadings, to use the discovery process for harassment, or to level frivolous allegations of conflicts of interest. 7 To effectuate the goals of deterrence...

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