The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Last fall, a federal district court judge in Florida granted a motion for sanctions against some of Donald Trump's attorneys for filing a frivolous lawsuit against Hillary Clinton and other Democratic party operatives. Yesterday, that same judge granted an additional motion for sanctions, this one filed by other defendants in the litigation. Combined, the two orders impose approximately $1 million in sanctions on Trump and his attorneys.
From the latest order:
This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.
Thirty-one individuals and entities were needlessly harmed in order to dishonestly advance a political narrative. A continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm.
I previously granted Defendant Charles Dolan's motion for sanctions, brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. (DE 284). Now before me is a motion seeking sanctions brought by eighteen other Defendants. Upon consideration of the Motion (DE 280), Response (DE 285) and Reply (DE 287), for the reasons that follow and also for those stated in my previous Order, sanctions are awarded.
And among the judge's specific conclusions:
The Case Was Initiated By A Shotgun Pleading Designed To Serve A Political Purpose.
The Pleadings Contained Factual Allegations That Were Knowingly False Or Made With Reckless Disregard For The Truth.
The Plaintiff's Legal Theories Were Frivolous, Foreclosed By Existing Precedent.
The judge also explained why the sanctions were not limited to the attorneys.
Here, we are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose. Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries. He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions. See Byrne, 261 F.3d at 1121. As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba. . . .
I have explained why the totality of the problems with the Complaint, Amended Complaint, and the arguments and statements of Plaintiff's counsel show that this lawsuit was filed and prosecuted in bad faith. But this case is part of Mr. Trump's pattern of misusing the courts to serve political purposes. Federal courts have both the inherent power and the constitutional obligation to protect their jurisdiction from conduct that impairs their ability to carry out Article III functions. . . .
Thus, while a litigant's conduct in other cases would normally not be relevant, when the court is faced with a sanctions motion against a repeat offender, undeterred by admonitions, it has the authority to consider that litigant's outside conduct. See Johnson v. 27th Ave. Caraf, Inc., 9 F.4th 1300, 1313-14 (11th Cir. 2021) (finding district court had "inherent power to investigate the scope and extent" of litigant's misconduct that "threaten[ed] the integrity of the court."); O'Neal, 2021 WL 4852222, at *5 (rejecting a plaintiff's sanctions appeal, in part, because "the district court  conducted a comprehensive examination of Plaintiff's litigation history, cited dozens of Plaintiff's past cases, concluded that only two had merit, and provided examples of past cases where Plaintiff followed an abusive strategy similar to that employed in this case . . . . ").
Pervasive abuse of the legal process should have consequences. In this case, it does.