The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


Federal Court Sanctions MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell for "Frivolous" Legal Claims

A federal district court judge dismissed Lindell's counterclaims against Dominion and Smartmatic, and Lindell may still be on the hook for defamation.


Yesterday, a federal district court judge dismissed MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell's counterclaims against election machine manufacturers U.S. Dominion and Smartmatic. The counterclaims were filed in the companies' defamation suit against Lindell, who had accused the firms of stealing the 2020 election with rigged election machines. In addition, Judge Nichols imposed sanctions on Lindell, given the "groundless" and "frivolous" nature of his claims. Last fall, Judge Nichols had also denied Lindell's attempt to dismiss the defamation claims.

After he was sued for defamation, Lindell filed a series of counterclaims against Dominion and Smartmatic, including abuse of process, RICO, and violations of the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and the "Support or Advocacy Clause of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), among others. In his opinion , Judge Nichols walks through each claim, explaining why each lacks merit, before dismissing them.

Judge Nichols also explained his reasons for granting Smartmatic's motion for sanctions, in part.

Smartmatic moves to sanction Lindell and his previous counsel under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 for filing a "frivolous case." . . . In particular, Smartmatic argues that Lindell and his counsel should be sanctioned for: (1) "predicat[ing] [Lindell's] claims on allegations that have been disproven by credible, publicly available sources and rejected by other federal district courts," (2) for filing "claims [that] lack a plausible basis in the law," and (3) for "fil[ing] suit to undermine confidence in the 2020 U.S. election." . . . Smartmatic further contends that "Lindell and his counsel must be held jointly and severally liable for the fees Smartmatic has expended defending itself and preparing the instant motion." . . .

The Court will grant Smartmatic's motion in part. The Court agrees with Smartmatic that Lindell has asserted at least some groundless claims. . . . In particular, the Court concludes that at the very least Lindell's claim against Smartmatic under the Support or Advocacy Clause falls on the frivolous side of the line (other claims do too). As a result, the Court orders Lindell and his previous counsel to pay some of the fees and costs Smartmatic has incurred defending itself and moving for sanctions under Rule 11. See Reynolds v. U.S. Capitol Police Bd., 357 F. Supp. 2d 19, 23 (D.D.C. 2004) ("The test under Rule 11 is an objective one: that is, whether a reasonable inquiry would have revealed there was no basis in law or fact for the asserted claim."); . . . But the Court requires additional briefing on the amount of appropriate costs under the circumstances.

In response to the ruling, Lindell told Bloomberg News he will consider an appeal:

Lindell said in a phone call that he'll decide later whether to appeal because he is busy challenging the continued use of Dominion and Smartmatic voting machines across the US.

"Whatever the judge thinks, that's his opinion," Lindell said. "I've got lawyers doing more important things like removing these machines from every state."

For those who care about such things, Judge Nichols clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court and was appointed to the federal bench by Donald Trump in 2019.