Navarro-Ayala v. Nunez, NAVARRO-AYALA

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore SELYA, Circuit Judge, COFFIN and CAMPBELL; SELYA
Citation968 F.2d 1421
PartiesRoberto, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. Jose A. NUNEZ, Defendant, Appellant. . Heard
Decision Date04 May 1992
Docket NumberNAVARRO-AYALA,No. 91-2084

Page 1421

968 F.2d 1421
23 Fed.R.Serv.3d 101
Roberto NAVARRO-AYALA, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees,
v.
Jose A. NUNEZ, Defendant, Appellant.
No. 91-2084.
United States Court of Appeals,
First Circuit.
Heard May 4, 1992.
Decided July 13, 1992.

Page 1423

Alice Net Carlo, with whom Garcia Rodon, Correa Marquez & Valderas, Hato Rey, P.R., was on brief, for appellant.

Carlos Garcia Gutierrez, with whom Luis M. Villaronga, San Juan, P.R., Armando Cardona Acaba, and Puerto Rico Legal Services, Inc., Bayamon, P.R., were on brief, for appellees.

Before SELYA, Circuit Judge, COFFIN and CAMPBELL, Senior Circuit Judges.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

Today marks the third time within the past two years that we have had occasion to visit the garden where this hardy perennial of a case continues to bloom. The appeal at hand involves the district court's imposition of a $20,000 sanction against defendant-appellant Jose A. Nunez, the Assistant Secretary of Mental Health of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that, although the court acted appropriately in levying a sanction, the amount of the sanction should be reduced.

I

This litigation started in 1974 when a class action was brought on behalf of patients at the Rio Piedras Psychiatric Hospital (Hospital), a government-operated facility. The defendants were officials of the Commonwealth. In 1977, the parties executed a settlement stipulation. The district court approved it. Since that time, the Hospital has remained subject to the district court's oversight. A Special Master, appointed under the aegis of Fed.R.Civ.P. 53, has assisted the district judge for several years. 1

II

The instant appeal has its genesis in the Special Master's fifteenth report, submitted to the district court on December 4, 1990. The report focused on the extent of the Commonwealth's progress toward deinstitutionalization of the Hospital's patient population. It mentioned that, as part of the deinstitutionalization effort, some patients had been transferred to the Guerrero Therapeutic Community (GTC), a mental health facility providing care and

Page 1424

therapy for sub-acute cases. 2 The report then noted that certain court-ordered deadlines would have to be extended because of the time required to "deinstitutionalize the plaintiffs-patients confined to [the GTC]."

On December 21, 1990, the defendants submitted their objections to Report No. 15. In that pleading, appellant took issue with the portion of the report that spoke of patients being "confined to" the GTC. The objection, which Dr. Nunez signed under oath, stated in pertinent part:

Patients residents of Guerrero are not confined. Confine means--"restrain within limits; to restrain within limits; imprison." Webster's New International Dictionary 2nd Ed. Unabridged. These patients can go back to where they come from, a family--at any time they want. The problem is that in the majority of the cases, the family does not want the patient to return or the patient cannot go back to the family because it is the source of the mental problem and/or triggers a decompensation. These patients have no other alternative just to reside there or go to one of the facilities of the rehabilitation division of the Mental Health Department if it is accepted by the resident.

This assertion seemed quite plainly to say that inmates were free to leave the GTC at any time they chose. So read, it ran counter to a fundamental premise on which the district court's handling of the case had been predicated. Noting the conflict, the district court instructed the Special Master "to investigate the truth of the matter" and to "verify whether Hospital patients transferred to [GTC] have been 'confined' there ... or whether they have been free to leave at any time."

To carry out the court's mandate, the Special Master enlisted the aid of his Advisory Interdisciplinary Team (AIT). He also held a hearing at which Dr. Nunez testified. The Special Master's seventeenth report incorporated the AIT's comments on the question of confinement. In direct response to the district court's inquiry, the Special Master wrote: "In light of the investigative record, only one conclusion is possible: there was no factual basis for the Assistant Secretary's December 21, 1990 statement to the court."

The appellant took exception to this finding, but presented no additional evidence to rebut it. The district court ratified the finding. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 53(e)(2) (in non-jury actions, the district court "shall accept the master's findings of fact unless clearly erroneous"). In so doing, the judge wrote:

On the basis of the unrefuted record the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health had no factual basis for his statement to the Court.... The record also demonstrates, irrefutably, that the Assistant Secretary did not make "reasonable inquiry" before submitting his statement to the Court, that as Secretary for Mental Health he was in a position to gather accurate information, but failed to do so.... Nor did defendants' ... comments and exceptions to [Report No. 17] present an acceptable justification for the failure of the Assistant Secretary to make reasonable inquiry prior to submitting a sworn statement which subsequent investigation demonstrated to be untrue and misleading.

At the same time, the judge ordered Dr. Nunez to "show cause why he should not be sanctioned for violation of Rule 11 of the Rules of Civil Procedure." 3

Page 1425

A show-cause hearing was held on June 17, 1991. After receiving testimony and documentary evidence, the court took the matter under advisement. On July 8, 1991, 1991 WL 353359, the court filed an opinion concluding that appellant violated Rule 11 by submitting a sworn pleading which to his knowledge "was not well grounded in fact." The court imposed a monetary sanction in the sum of $20,000, to be paid personally by Dr. Nunez. This appeal followed.

III

We consider, first, the principles controlling appellate review in cases of this stripe. We then proceed to determine whether any sanction was warranted.

A.

It is apodictic that a district court's decision to impose Rule 11 sanctions is reviewable under an abuse-of-discretion rubric. See Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 110 S.Ct. 2447, 2457-61, 110 L.Ed.2d 359 (1990); Maine Audubon Soc'y v. Purslow, 907 F.2d 265, 267 (1st Cir.1990). Because the decision about whether a litigant's (or lawyer's) actions merit the imposition of sanctions is heavily dependent upon the district court's firsthand knowledge of the case and its nuances, appellate review is deferential. See Maine Audubon, 907 F.2d at 267-68; Anderson v. Beatrice Foods Co., 900 F.2d 388, 393-94 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 233, 112 L.Ed.2d 193 (1990). Thus, a party protesting an order in respect to sanctions bears a formidable burden in attempting to convince the court of appeals that the district judge erred in finding that Rule 11 was, or was not, violated. Maine Audubon, 907 F.2d at 268.

Rule 11 applies foursquare to represented parties. Business Guides, Inc. v. Chromatic Communications Enterps., Inc., --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 922, 931, 112 L.Ed.2d 1140 (1991). Prior to signing a pleading, a litigant must fulfill the "affirmative duty to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the facts and the law." Id., 111 S.Ct. at 933. Whether or not this duty has been breached depends 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 circumstances, including the complexity of the subject matter, the party's familiarity with it, the time available for inquiry, and the ease (or difficulty) of access to the requisite information. See Brown v. Federation of State Medical Bds., 830 F.2d 1429, 1435 (7th Cir.1987); Century Prods., Inc. v. Sutter, 837 F.2d 247, 250-51 (6th Cir.1988); Thomas v. Capital Sec. Servs., Inc., 836 F.2d 866, 875 (5th Cir.1988) (en banc); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 11, Advisory Committee's Notes, 97 F.R.D. 198, 199 (1983). Litigants, like counsel, are to be held "to standards of due diligence and objective reasonableness--not perfect research or utter prescience." Maine Audubon, 907 F.2d at 268. Furthermore, for Rule 11 purposes, a party's pleading must be judged on the basis of what was reasonable when the pleading was filed rather than in hindsight. See Cruz v. Savage, 896 F.2d 626, 631 (1st...

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82 practice notes
  • Part II
    • United States
    • Federal Register December 12, 2003
    • December 12, 2003
    ...Subsidiary goals include punishing prosecution/litigation abuse, and facilitating case management. See Navarro-Ayala v. Nunez, 968 F.2d 1421 (C.A. Puerto Rico 1992). Sanctions that may be imposed on pro se litigants may also be imposed on pro se applicants, including prohibition from commen......
  • Practice and procedure: Patent and trademark cases rules of practice; representation of others before Patent and Trademark Office,
    • United States
    • Federal Register December 12, 2003
    • December 12, 2003
    ...Subsidiary goals include punishing prosecution/litigation abuse, and facilitating case management. See Navarro-Ayala v. Nunez, 968 F.2d 1421 (C.A. Puerto Rico 1992). Sanctions that may be imposed on pro se litigants may also be imposed on pro se applicants, including prohibition from commen......
  • U.S. v. Barrett, No. 96-2355
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 2, 1999
    ...are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable 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)......
  • 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
    ...without sufficient forethought—is a legitimate basis for imposing sanctions upon an attorney.”). 66. Navarro–Ayala v. Nunez, 968 F.2d 1421, 1425 (1st Cir.1992). 67. Sylver v. Sec. Pac. Servs. (In re Sylver), 214 B.R. 422, 428 (1st Cir. BAP 1997) ( quoting Cruz v. Savage, 896 F.2d at 631). 6......
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80 cases
  • U.S. v. Barrett, No. 96-2355
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • February 2, 1999
    ...are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable 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)......
  • 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
    ...without sufficient forethought—is a legitimate basis for imposing sanctions upon an attorney.”). 66. Navarro–Ayala v. Nunez, 968 F.2d 1421, 1425 (1st Cir.1992). 67. Sylver v. Sec. Pac. Servs. (In re Sylver), 214 B.R. 422, 428 (1st Cir. BAP 1997) ( quoting Cruz v. Savage, 896 F.2d at 631). 6......
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    ...counsel, based on billing records showing that defendants had spent over $14,000 in defending challenged motion); Navarro–Ayala v. Nunez, 968 F.2d 1421, 1428 (1st Cir.1992) (holding Rule 11 sanction of $20,000 to be excessive and reducing to $6,500). 34. The sanctions, though reduced in amo......
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    ...depends on the objective reasonableness of the litigant's conduct under the totality of the circumstances." Navarro-Ayala v. Núñez, 968 F.2d 1421, 1425 (1st Cir.1992). After a careful review of the pleadings of this case and for the reasons herein stated, we find that counsel Rafael Colón F......
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