Lancellotti v. Fay, No. 90-1122

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore BREYER, Chief Judge, BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge, and SELYA; SELYA
Citation909 F.2d 15
PartiesAlfred LANCELLOTTI, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. Honorable Thomas F. FAY, etc., et al., Defendants, Appellants. . Heard
Docket NumberNo. 90-1122
Decision Date07 June 1990

Page 15

909 F.2d 15
17 Fed.R.Serv.3d 709
Alfred LANCELLOTTI, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
Honorable Thomas F. FAY, etc., et al., Defendants, Appellants.
No. 90-1122.
United States Court of Appeals,
First Circuit.
Heard June 7, 1990.
Decided July 18, 1990.

Page 16

Michael P. DeFanti with whom Hinckley, Allen, Snyder & Comen, was on brief, for defendants, appellants.

Marty C. Marran with whom Joseph E. Marran, Jr., was on brief, for plaintiff, appellee.

Before BREYER, Chief Judge, BOWNES, Senior Circuit Judge, and SELYA, Circuit Judge.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

Appellants seek to persuade us that the district court applied too relaxed a behavioral standard in considering, and rejecting, their motion for sanctions against plaintiff-appellee Alfred Lancellotti and/or his counsel. The point is well taken.

Prior Proceedings

This case arises from the ashes of a decade of matrimonial litigation in the Rhode Island courts which sparked, among other things, two published opinions by the state's highest tribunal. See Lancellotti v. Lancellotti, 481 A.2d 7 (R.I.1984); Lancellotti v. Lancellotti, 543 A.2d 680 (R.I.1988). Rather than repastinating that terrain, we skip directly to the spot where the domestic dispute focused on monies unpaid and overdue. The state supreme court resolved that quarrel conclusively:

We therefore remand the case and instruct the Family Court to order that Alfred pay, first, the arrearage and attorney's fees ordered by the Family Court judge on March 7, 1986 [and] ... second, the unpaid support from February 15, 1986, until April 7, 1987, the date of the hearing denying the motion to hold Alfred in contempt for continuing failure to pay support.

* * * * * *

In addition, we order Alfred to pay the unpaid alimony that has accrued since the date of the erroneous Family Court decision....

Lancellotti v. Lancellotti, 543 A.2d at 682.

Lancellotti declined to appear at the hearing on remand. The family court judge held him in contempt and ordered him incarcerated unless he paid the arrearages. When the judge issued a writ of arrest to enforce the order, Lancellotti petitioned for certiorari, claiming that the judge had abridged his constitutional rights by ordering him jailed without proof of ability to pay. The Rhode Island Supreme Court denied the petition on the ground "that in the proceedings below petitioner did not choose to offer evidence of his inability to comply with the Family Court's order respecting alimony, and the burden of establishing such inability to pay was clearly the petitioner's burden." Lancellotti v. Lancellotti, No. 89-596-M.P. (R.I. Feb. 23, 1989) (unpublished order).

Unfazed, Lancellotti sued in the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island. Again invoking the Constitution and making substantially the same argument, he sought to enjoin the state supreme court justices and the family court judge from enforcing the outstanding orders. Appellee's former wife, Alma Lancellotti, intervened. The six defendants and the intervenor moved for dismissal and imposition of sanctions. The district court referred the matter to a United States

Page 17

magistrate, who filed a written report (Report) recommending that the suit be dismissed and sanctions imposed. Plaintiff objected. The court heard argument and dismissed the complaint with prejudice because:

... [W]ere we to permit this type of proceeding to continue, we would in effect be sitting in appeal on determinations of the Supreme Court of the State of Rhode Island. [We] have neither that right nor that responsibility.... In effect, were we to participate in this type of inquiry, we would effectively serve as an Appellate Court to the Family Court of the State of Rhode Island in domestic matters.

Lancellotti v. Fay, No. 88-0735, bench decision at 2-3 (D.R.I. Jan. 11, 1990). 1 The lower court's judgment on the merits was unarguably correct, see District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 1311, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983) (federal district court "is without authority to review final determinations of [a state court] in judicial proceedings"); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Eng'rs, 398 U.S. 281, 296, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 1748, 26 L.Ed.2d 234 (1970) (same); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co. 263 U.S. 413, 415-16, 44 S.Ct. 149, 150, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923) (same), and Lancellotti has not appealed the dismissal order.

As to the Rule 11 motion, the magistrate recommended sanctions on the ground that, "[g]iven the longevity and clarity of the law governing the instant action ... plaintiff's complaint [was] not warranted by existing law, nor by a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law." Report at 9. 2 The district court ruled that more was needed to justify sanctions. Bench Dec. at 5-6. Without faulting the finding of groundlessness, the judge declared that Rule 11 established a conjunctive, multi-part test, and found "the test ... not met here [because] ... this action is not brought for any improper purpose [and].... Plaintiff's Counsel sincerely believes that there may be an opportunity here for the Plaintiff to obtain relief." Id. at 6. On that basis, the judge declined to sanction Lancellotti or his counsel. The judicial defendants appealed.

Historical Perspective

Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 was substantially revised in 1983. 3 Prior thereto, the Rule had not

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been "effective in deterring [litigatory] abuses." Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 advisory committee's note (1983 amendments). This was partially because the "old" Rule spoke in subjective terms. See Kale v. Combined Ins. Co., 861 F.2d 746, 757 n. 12 (1st Cir.1988). Before the Rule was amended, therefore, Rule 11 sanctions could be awarded only upon a showing of bad faith. See, e.g., Nemeroff v. Abelson, 620 F.2d 339, 348 (2d Cir.1980) (per curiam). Over time, the purely subjective standard proved to be a toothless tiger. The need for stiffening the Rule--fueled by "[w]idespread concern over frivolous litigation and abusive practices of attorneys," Schwarzer, Sanctions Under The New Federal Rule 11--A Closer Look, 104 F.R.D. 181, 181 (1985)--was correspondingly great. This background is critically important since any "interpretation of the current Rule 11 must be guided, in part, by an understanding of the deficiencies in the original version of Rule 11 that led to its revision." Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., --- U.S. ----, ----, 110 S.Ct. 2447, 2454, 110 L.Ed.2d 359 (1990).

The redrafted Rule was designed to give the tiger some bite by "impos[ing] much more specific and extensive obligations" on parties and their counsel. Schwarzer, supra,...

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  • Giles Toro v. University of Puerto Rico, No. CIV.97-2934 DRD.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • December 28, 2001
    ...lack jurisdiction to consider claims Page 463 inextricably intertwined with review of state judicial proceedings. Lancellotti v. Fay, 909 F.2d 15, 17 (1st Cir.1990).2 "A federal claim is inextricably intertwined with the state-court claims `if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent t......
  • U.S. v. Barrett, No. 96-2355
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 2, 1999
    ...opportunity for further investigation or discovery"); Navarro-Ayala v. Nunez, 968 F.2d 1421, 1425 (1st Cir.1992); Lancellotti v. Fay, 909 F.2d 15, 19 (1st Cir.1990); see also 1 Liebman & Hertz, supra, § 11.3b, at 488-89 (3d ed. 1998) ("[A] reasonable, even if as yet unconfirmed, belief that......
  • In re Hermosilla, Bankruptcy No. 05–11048–WCH.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. First Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Massachusetts
    • June 1, 2011
    ...on the objective reasonableness of the litigant's conduct under the totality of the circumstances. See id.; see also Lancellotti v. Fay, 909 F.2d 15, 18–19 (1st Cir.1990). To determine whether a litigant made a reasonable inquiry into the facts, the district court should examine all the cir......
  • Feliciano v. Tribunal Supremo De Puerto Rico, No. Civ. No. 98-1243(DRD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • September 30, 1999
    ...the District Court may not do. See Wang v. New Hampshire Board of Registration, 55 F.3d 698, 703 (1st Cir., 1995); Lancellotti v. Fay, 909 F.2d 15, 17 (1st Cir., 1990); Scariano v. Justices of the Supreme Court of Indiana, 852 F.Supp. 708 (S.D.Ind.1994); Clark v. Virginia Board of Bar Exami......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
80 cases
  • Giles Toro v. University of Puerto Rico, No. CIV.97-2934 DRD.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • December 28, 2001
    ...lack jurisdiction to consider claims Page 463 inextricably intertwined with review of state judicial proceedings. Lancellotti v. Fay, 909 F.2d 15, 17 (1st Cir.1990).2 "A federal claim is inextricably intertwined with the state-court claims `if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent t......
  • U.S. v. Barrett, No. 96-2355
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 2, 1999
    ...opportunity for further investigation or discovery"); Navarro-Ayala v. Nunez, 968 F.2d 1421, 1425 (1st Cir.1992); Lancellotti v. Fay, 909 F.2d 15, 19 (1st Cir.1990); see also 1 Liebman & Hertz, supra, § 11.3b, at 488-89 (3d ed. 1998) ("[A] reasonable, even if as yet unconfirmed, belief that......
  • In re Hermosilla, Bankruptcy No. 05–11048–WCH.
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. First Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — District of Massachusetts
    • June 1, 2011
    ...on the objective reasonableness of the litigant's conduct under the totality of the circumstances. See id.; see also Lancellotti v. Fay, 909 F.2d 15, 18–19 (1st Cir.1990). To determine whether a litigant made a reasonable inquiry into the facts, the district court should examine all the cir......
  • Feliciano v. Tribunal Supremo De Puerto Rico, No. Civ. No. 98-1243(DRD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Puerto Rico
    • September 30, 1999
    ...the District Court may not do. See Wang v. New Hampshire Board of Registration, 55 F.3d 698, 703 (1st Cir., 1995); Lancellotti v. Fay, 909 F.2d 15, 17 (1st Cir., 1990); Scariano v. Justices of the Supreme Court of Indiana, 852 F.Supp. 708 (S.D.Ind.1994); Clark v. Virginia Board of Bar Exami......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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