Tilmon-Jones v. Boladian et al
ORDER denying 61 Motion for Sanctions. Signed by District Judge John Corbett O'Meara. (WBar)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
JANYCE H. TILMON-JONES,
Case No. 06-14048
Hon. John Corbett O’Meara
ARMEN BOLADIAN and
BRIDGEPORT MUSIC, INC.,
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS’
MOTION FOR SANCTIONS
Before the court is Defendants’ motion for sanctions, filed January 4, 2011. Plaintiff
filed a response on January 11, 2011. Defendants submitted a reply on January 31, 2011. The
court did not hear oral argument.
The parties settled this copyright infringement case and stipulated to its dismissal on
September 6, 2007. On November 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the dismissal for
fraud upon the court, alleging that Defendants’ counsel had withheld material documents prior to
the settlement. Defendants filed a response on December 17, 2010, attesting that the documents
had, in fact, been produced to Plaintiff. Defendants also served Plaintiff with a motion for Rule
11 sanctions on December 14, 2010.
In light of Defendants’ response and Rule 11 motion, Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew
without prejudice her motion to set aside the dismissal on January 4, 2011. The same day,
Defendants filed the instant motion, requesting sanctions and that Plaintiff’s motion be dismissed
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 provides:
A motion for sanctions must be made separately from any other
motion and must describe the specific conduct that allegedly
violates Rule 11(b). The motion must be served under Rule 5, but
it must not be filed or presented to the court if the challenged
paper, claim, defense, contention, or denial is withdrawn or
appropriately corrected within 21 days after service or within
another time the court sets. . . .
Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(2). As explained in the Advisory Committee notes to the 1993
These provisions are intended to provide a type of “safe harbor”
against motions under Rule 11 in that a party will not be subject to
sanctions on the basis of another party’s motion unless, after
receiving the motion, it refuses to withdraw that position or to
acknowledge candidly that it does not currently have evidence to
support a specified allegation. Under the former rule, parties were
sometimes reluctant to abandon a questionable contention lest that
be viewed as evidence of a violation of Rule 11; under the
revision, the timely withdrawal of a contention will protect a party
against a motion for sanctions.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 Advisory Committee Notes (1993 Amendment) at 91-92 (West 2011).
After being served with Defendants’ motion for sanctions, Plaintiff timely withdrew her
motion. Thus, sanctions under Rule 11 would be inappropriate and would contravene the
intention of the safe harbor provision. Implicitly recognizing this, Defendants instead seek
sanctions under the court’s “inherent power.”
The imposition of sanctions under the court’s inherent power “requires a finding of bad
faith or of conduct ‘tantamount to bad faith.’” BDT Prod., Inc. v. Lexmark Int’l, Inc., 602 F.3d
742, 752 (6th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). “In order to award attorney fees under this bad faith
exception, a district court must find (1) that the claims advanced were meritless, (2) that counsel
knew or should have known this, and (3) that the motive for filing the suit was for an improper
purpose such as harassment.” Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). The Sixth Circuit has
clarified that the “mere fact that an action is without merit does not amount to bad faith. . . .
Harassing the opposing party, delaying or disrupting litigation, hampering the enforcement of a
court order, or making improper use of the courts are all examples of the sorts of conduct that
will support a finding of bad faith or improper purpose. . . . [H]owever, these sorts of conduct
cannot be demonstrated solely by the fact that party knowingly pursued a meritless claim or
action.” Id. (emphasis in original).
The facts in this matter are heavily contested; Defendants contend that Plaintiff knew or
should have known that the accusations in her motion were false. Plaintiff’s current counsel
contends that he undertook a reasonable inquiry, including obtaining declarations from
Plaintiff’s former counsel and another witness. Although Plaintiff’s motion may have been
meritless, the court finds no evidence that it was filed based upon an improper purpose rather
than an honest mistake. Therefore, the court declines to exercise its discretion to award
sanctions here. Nor does the court see any purpose in dismissing a motion with prejudice that
has already been withdrawn by Plaintiff. If Plaintiff chooses to re-file her motion, however, the
court will of course revisit the issue.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants’ motion for sanctions is DENIED.
s/John Corbett O’Meara
United States District Judge
Date: June 1, 2011
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon counsel of record
on this date, June 1, 2011, using the ECF system.
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