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Masterson v. Killen

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 6, 2017

S. KILLEN, et al., Defendants.


         Plaintiff Daniel Masterson is appearing pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case proceeds against Defendants Killen, Hampson, Hall, Fisher, Rodriguez, Santoro, and Tolson for retaliation in violation of the First Amendment, and against Defendants Killen, Hampson, Hall, Rodriguez, Santoro, and Tolson for conspiracy to retaliate against Plaintiff. This matter was referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(1)(B) and Local Rule 302.[1]

         Currently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for an order to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed. (ECF Nos. 118, 123.) The Court held an evidentiary hearing on this matter on February 15, 2017. (ECF No. 139.) Plaintiff appeared pro se, and Misha D. Igra appeared on behalf of Defendants. Plaintiff testified on his own behalf. Jaymes Thomas McCollum and Michelle M. Mayer testified on behalf of the Defendants.


         The procedural history of this matter leading up to the February 15, 2017 hearing is set forth in detail in this Court's January 16, 2017 order. The Court assumes familiarity with that order and the prior proceedings, and only briefly summarizes them here.

         On June 10, 2016, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in this case. (ECF No. 90.) On September 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed an opposition, with support. (ECF Nos. 100, 101, 102, 103, 105.)

         On December 2, 2016, Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiff's opposition. (ECF No. 117.) Among the arguments in their reply brief, Defendants assert that Plaintiff submitted forged and fraudulent declarations in support of his opposition. (ECF No. 117, pp. 2, 12-13.) Defendants moved to strike the allegedly false and fraudulent declarations.

         On December 14, 2016, Defendants moved for an order requiring Plaintiff to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for preparing and filing the allegedly false declarations. Defendants further requested a show cause hearing. (ECF No. 118.) Former Deputy Attorney General Michelle M. Mayer, who was defense counsel at that time, submitted a declaration in support of the motion for an order to show cause. (ECF No. 118-2.) Defendants argue that, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 11 and 56(h), Local Rule 110, and the inherent authority of the Court, Plaintiff's action should be terminated as a sanction, and Defendants should further be awarded monetary sanctions against Plaintiff as reimbursement for certain fees and costs.[2]

         On December 14, 2016 Plaintiff filed a motion to stay the proceedings in this matter to resolve the dispute regarding the declarations, which he contends were not false or fraudulent. (ECF No. 120.)[3] On December 21, 2016, Defendants filed a response to Plaintiff's motion, agreeing that the issues regarding the declarations should be resolved before the case proceeds. (ECF No. 121.)

         On January 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for an order to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed and requesting a show cause hearing, asserting that Ms. Mayer submitted a false declaration in this matter. (ECF No. 123.) Plaintiff argues that Defendants' motion for summary judgment should be denied in full as a sanction for Ms. Mayer's alleged misconduct.

         Following other submission by the parties on these matters, on January 26, 2017, the Court set this matter for an evidentiary hearing. (ECF No. 28.) The Court also required defense counsel to provide certain evidence for in-camera review in advance of the hearing, (ECF No. 28, at p. 5), which was lodged with the Court on February 6, 2017, (ECF No. 132). As noted above, the evidentiary hearing was held on February 15, 2017. (ECF No. 139.)


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 sanctions are justified if a party or their attorney submits a pleading to the court which is submitted for an improper purpose, is frivolous, has no evidentiary support or not warranted by the evidence. A party moving for Rule 11 sanctions bears the burden to show why sanctions are justified. See Tom Growney Equip., v. Shelley Irr. Dev., Inc., 834 F.2d 833, 837 (9th Cir. 1987). The Ninth Circuit has stated that Rule 11 sanctions are “an extraordinary remedy, one to be exercised with extreme caution.” Operating Eng'rs Pension Trust v. A-C Co., 859 F.2d 1336, 1345 (9th Cir. 1988).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 concerns motions for summary judgment or partial summary judgment. Rule 56(h) provides as follows:

If satisfied that an affidavit or declaration under this rule is submitted in bad faith or solely for delay, the court-after notice and a reasonable time to respond-may order the submitting party to pay the other party the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, it incurred as a result. An offending party or attorney may also be held in contempt or subjected to other appropriate sanctions.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(h). “Bad faith in the context of Rule 56(h) requires a deliberate or knowing act f an improper purpose.” Raher v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, Case No. 3:09-CV-00526-ST, 2011 W 4832574, at *8 (D. Or. Oct. 12, 2011). See also Caron v. QuicKutz, Inc., Case No. CV-09-0260 PHX-NVW, 2012 WL 5497869, at *20 (D. Ariz. Nov. 13, 2012), aff'd sub nom. Caron v. Lifestyle Crafts, LLC, 528 F. App'x 993 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (striking declaration under Rule 56(h) for containing statements not based upon personal knowledge and statements intended to mislead the court, b denying request for attorney's fees.)

         Federal courts have the inherent authority to sanction conduct abusive of the judicial process Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43-45 (1991). Local Rule 110 of this district also provides that the “[f]ailure of counsel or of a party to comply with these Rules or with any order of the Court may be grounds for imposition by the Court of any and all sanctions authorized by statute or Rule within the inherent power of the Court.”

         Because of their very potency, inherent powers to sanction must be exercised with restraint an discretion. Chambers, 501 U.S. at 44 (quotation marks omitted). To be sanctionable under the Court inherent power, the conduct must have constituted, or been tantamount to, bad faith. Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 767 (1980); Gomez v. Vernon, 255 F.3d 1118, 1134 (9th Ci 2001); Fink v. Gomez, 239 F.3d 989, 993-94 (9th Cir. 2001). Recklessness, when combined with a additional factor such as frivolousness, harassment, or an improper purpose, may support sanction Vernon, 255 F.3d at 1134; Fink, 239 F.3d at 994, but mere negligence or recklessness will not suffice In re Lehtinen, 564 F.3d 1052, 1058 (9th Cir. 2009).

         “[O]utright dismissal of a lawsuit . . . is a particularly severe sanction, yet is within the court's discretion.” Chambers, 501 U.S. at 45 (citation omitted). “[C]ourts have inherent power to dismiss an action when a party has willfully deceived the court and engaged in conduct utterly inconsistent with the orderly administration of justice.” Wyle v. R.J. Reynolds Industries, Inc., 709 F.2d 585, 589 (9th Cir.1983) (citation omitted). The Ninth Circuit has held that falsifying evidence is a ground for imposing the sanction of dismissal. See Combs v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 927 F.2d 486, 488 (9th Cir.1991) (affirming dismissal as appropriate sanction for falsifying ...

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