eDiscovery Daily Blog

Court Denies Southwest Airlines’ Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions Against Plaintiff: eDiscovery Case Law

In Houston v. Southwest Airlines, No. 3:17-cv-02610-N-BT (N.D. Tex. Feb. 18, 2020), Texas Magistrate Judge Rebecca Rutherford “decline[d] to impose sanctions under either Rule 11 or its inherent powers” against the plaintiff for statements she made regarding her response to the defendant’s interrogatories and requests for admission in her summary judgment response.

Case Background

The defendant served interrogatories and requests for admission on the plaintiff, and claimed that she did not respond. In her summary judgment response, however, the plaintiff asserted that she responded to the defendant’s interrogatories and requests for admission via email on April 20, 2019, and even followed up with counsel on May 1, 2019, to confirm defendant’s receipt of her answers.  The defendant objected that the plaintiff’s statements were “materially false” and contended that she made them for the improper purpose of avoiding summary judgment. As a result, the defendant sought sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 and the Court’s inherent power in the form of an order: (1) striking the plaintiff’s summary judgment response without leave to amend; (2) granting the defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment; and (3) requiring that the plaintiff pay the defendant $1,015.00 in attorney’s fees.  The plaintiff did not respond to the defendant’s Motion for Sanctions.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Rutherford began her analysis by noting that “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 authorizes a court to impose sanctions on a party or an attorney who files a pleading for an improper purpose, such as to harass the opposing party, delay the proceedings, or increase the cost of litigation.”  She also noted that “[c]ourts also have inherent authority to impose sanctions on attorneys when they find that an attorney has ‘acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons’”, while also noting that “[c]ourts ‘exercise caution’ in invoking their inherent power and should ‘ordinarily’ rely on a rule or statute rather than their inherent power.”

In this case, Judge Rutherford stated: “Here, the Court declines to impose sanctions under either Rule 11 or its inherent powers. The record in this case does not clearly establish that Houston’s assertions that she responded to Southwest’s discovery requests were made for an improper purpose. Indeed, there is no evidence in the record regarding Houston’s intent. She may have honestly, but mistakenly, believed she properly answered Southwest’s discovery requests. Sanctions under the Court’s inherent authority are inappropriate for the same reason. Accordingly, Southwest’s Motion for Sanctions is DENIED.”

So, what do you think?  Should the court have expected some documentation from the plaintiff to support her claim that she responded via email to avoid Rule 11 sanctions?  Please let us know if any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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