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Seawright v. Charter Furniture Rental, Inc. Case Brief

Summary of Seawright v. Charter Furniture Rental, Inc., U.S. District Ct. for the Northern District of TX (1999)

Cause of action: The following is a cause of action for violation of the ADA, and subsequent sanctions against counsel.

Procedural History: Court originally granted DF summary judgment finding DF knew none of these facts.  Court also shifted attorney’s fees to PL as a result of an ADA provision that the claims were frivolous, and then turned to DF’s motion for sanctions against PL’s counsel.  DF’s motion granted to pay reasonable attorney’s fees, counsel was publicly reprimanded.

Facts: PL, employee for DF, was in a homosexual relationship with Hull, who developed AIDS.  PL was Hull’s primary care giver.  PL received complaints about his work (during Hull’s illness).  PL was fired by DF.

PL alleges he person associated with a person with a disability and thus protected by all rights under the ADA.  This depends on: (1) whether Charter knew of PL’s relationship w/Hull, and (2) that Hull had AIDS.

Issue(s): Under FRCP 11, are reasonable attorney’s fees and sanctions available to a DF whose opposing counsel failed to perform a proper pre-filing investigation as required by the rule and then continued to pursue a “frivolous lawsuit?”

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: This court concludes that after knowing the claims were frivolous, unreasonable and the like, she proceeded to bring the suit in bad faith.  Specifically, PL knew when he brought suit that he lied to DF about his relationship with Hull, about Hull’s having HIV, about Hull’s cause of death and date of death.  There was also no personal knowledge DF or any employees knew of the situation.  Summary judgment even said DF dealt in good faith, while PL did not.  DF’s is a small business and lawyers’ fees are very expensive to them.

DF asserts had PL’s counsel filed a proper pre-filing investigation under FRCP 11(b), she would have seen the case as frivolous and without evidentiary support after she would have had reasonable time to research the claims, or even would have realized the frivolousness after a discovery planning meeting as per FRCP 26(f).

Sanctions should be carefully chosen to foster the appropriate purpose of the rule, depending upon the parties, the violation, and the nature of the case.  There are 4 factors:

(1) announcing the sanctionable conduct

–> there was a violation of FRCP 11(b)(3) by asserting allegations & factual contentions that had no evidentiary support.

(2) relating the sanctionable conduct to a monetary amount

–> every amount of money spent prosecuting this case was a waste of money

(3) review whether the costs were reasonable as opposed to self-imposed, mitigable, or the result of delay in seeking court intervention

–> fees are reasonable after review of the records

(4) considering whether the sanction imposed is the least severe sanction adequate to achieve the purpose of FRCP 11

–> PL counsel should be required to “fix what she broke.”

Since PL’s counsel had not been sanctioned before, they let her get away with a published reprimand coupled with a strong admonishment and warning not to engage in this in the future, as this is as nice as a court is likely to get.

Rule: See FRCP 11(b). See FRCP 26(f).  See FRCP 11(c)(2).

A court may not impose FRCP 11 sanctions “merely for the eventual failure of factual and legal arguments after a trial; sanctions are to be applied only where, at the time of filing, such arguments were unwarranted.

Holding: Yes.  There was lack of good faith in bringing the lawsuit on part of PL the litigant; counsel should have realized this and should have were she to have



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