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Manaois v. Roberts

December 18, 2009

SANDRA C.L. MANAOIS, AKA SANDY LANE, JERRY W. HILBISH, AND ELIZABETH ROBERTS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PAUL ROBERTS, AND ERIN BREYMAN, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Paul Roberts and Erin Breyman's motion for sanctions against the Plaintiffs Sandra C.L. Manaois, Jerry W. Hilbish, Elizabeth Roberts and their attorney of record James Ireijo pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. (Doc. # 26.) Defendants' motion for Rule 11 sanctions is essentially a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). As such, the Court will first consider whether to grant Plaintiffs' motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) and then will evaluate Defendants' motion to impose Rule 11 sanctions on Plaintiffs and their attorney, James Ireijo.*fn1

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The claims for relief in the present action arise from the same events and transactions related to Probate Case No: PP20060081, Estate of Robert E. Roberts, El Dorado Superior Court, State of California. On March 19, 2006, Robert E. Roberts passed away. The Plaintiff, Elizabeth Roberts, is the surviving spouse of the decedent Robert E. Roberts ("Roberts"). The Defendants, Paul Roberts and Erin Breyman, are the surviving children of the decedent. Defendants were appointed personal representatives of the Estate of Roberts. Roberts left a will that was admitted to probate, in which he left Elizabeth a conditional life estate in their home (hereinafter "Residence"), as long as she lived in the Residence and paid all the bills on it. Elizabeth moved out of the Residence on or about May 21, 2006. On or about May 30, 2006 Elizabeth Roberts sent a letter to Defendant Paul Roberts indicating she had vacated the Residence and was returning the keys to Paul Roberts.

In relation to Probate Case No: PP20060081, Estate of Robert E. Roberts, Elizabeth filed a Petition to Determine Succession to real and personal property. On or about October 26, 2006, Defendant Paul Roberts went to the Residence to check on the home and discovered all the locks had been changed and a "No Trespassing" sign had been placed on one of the doors. Based on his observations, Paul Roberts filed a police report with the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office.

On April 13, 2007, Elizabeth entered into an agreement with the Estate of Roberts to settle the Petition to Determine Succession. The settlement agreement required dismissal of Elizabeth's Petition to Determine Succession with prejudice, waiver of any and all rights in the personal property, except as to any community property claims she may have in the Residence. In addition, the parties agreed "never to commence, aid, prosecute, or cause to be commenced or prosecuted against the other any action or proceedings based directly or indirectly upon any of the matters referred to in the lawsuit." (Doc. # 26, Ex. A.)

In the present case, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint asserts four causes of action against Defendants for: (1) Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; (2) Slander, Libel, Defamation, and/or Invasion of Privacy; (3) Conversion; and (4) Interference with Contract. In the instant motion Defendants request that the Court dismiss the Amended Complaint with prejudice, order Plaintiffs to refrain from filing future identical actions and impose monetary sanctions sufficient to compensate Defendants for their attorneys' fees estimated to be $17,000.00 and to serve the other goals of Rule 11. (Doc. # 26.) Plaintiffs oppose the motion. (Doc. # 32). For all of the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED with prejudice and Defendants' motion for Rule 11 sanctions is DENIED.

II. OPINION

A. Legal Standard

1. Judgment on the Pleadings

Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides: "After the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial - a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). For purposes of a motion under Rule 12(c), the allegations of the non-moving party must be accepted as true, and the allegations of the moving party that have been denied are presumed false. See Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1990). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate only when the moving party clearly establishes on the face of the pleadings that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Enron Oil Trading & Transportation Co. v. Walbrook Ins. Co. Ltd., 132 F.3d 526, 529 (9th Cir. 1997). Judgment may be granted only when the pleadings show beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of her claims that would entitle her to relief. See id. The Ninth Circuit has held that "the principal difference between motions filed pursuant to Rule 12(b) and Rule 12(c) is the time of filing" and that "because the motions are functionally identical, the same standard of review applicable to a Rule 12(b) motion applies to its Rule 12(c) analog." See Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989).

2. Motion for Sanctions

A party may make a motion for sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Rule 11 provides, in pertinent part:

(b) By presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper . . . an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances:

(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass, causes unnecessary delay, or needlessly ...


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