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United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
April 16, 1992, Argued ; July 14, 1992, Decided
The only issue before us on appeal is whether the district court properly denied a motion for Rule 11 sanctions filed by defendants Thornton Township and Thornton Township Youth Committee, Inc. (collectively "Thornton Township" or "TTYC"), against plaintiff Catherine Ladner.
Ladner was employed by Thornton Township as a social worker at the TTYC, a non-profit community social services organization. When an opening arose for the TTYC executive director, a position which required a masters degree, five years administrative experience, and "excellent communications skills," Ladner applied for the job. After the Thornton Township Board of Trustees selected a white applicant over Ladner, who is black, she responded by filing [*2] suit against Thornton Township and the TTYC, alleging employment discrimination under Title VII, and deprivation of her constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983. Ladner's suit also alleged that Thornton Township had a policy of "hiring from within" that favored current employees of Thornton Township over outsiders, a policy which had a discriminatory impact on minority job applicants.
Ladner claimed she was fully qualified for the job: she had a masters degree in communications, 15 credit hours toward her doctorate, and substantial administrative experience, including her duties as a social worker at the TTYC, her role as coordinator of the TTYC's Harvey Outreach Center, and her background as publisher of a local community newspaper. Ladner further claimed to have trained some 28 social work students during her tenure at the TTYC.
In response to this complaint, Thornton Township filed a Motion for a More Definite Statement, which the district court granted, leading Ladner to file an amended complaint in February 1988. She then engaged in several months of discovery which included taking the depositions of a number of Thornton Township officials. In June 1988, the [*3] district court dismissed the bulk of Ladner's amended complaint, but gave her leave to replead one of her four claims, advising her to reconsider whether her claim regarding defendant's alleged policy of "hiring from within" had any factual basis, and to carefully avoid vague allegations in any future pleadings. The court further instructed Ladner that at least two of her requested remedies -- removal of a Township official and compensatory damages -- were unavailable under Title VII. Ladner filed a second amended complaint in early July 1988, which the district court also dismissed.
Thornton Township filed this motion for sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11, alleging that Ladner's second amended complaint was frivolous. Rule 11 requires attorneys to make a reasonable inquiry into the factual and legal basis for every pleading, motion, or other document filed in federal court, see, e.g., Kapco Mfg. Co. v. C & O Enter., Inc., 886 F.2d 1485, 1491 (7th Cir. 1989), and Thornton Township maintained that Ladner's counsel breached that rule by failing to make such an inquiry before filing Ladner's complaint. First, Thornton Township alleged the second amended complaint [*4] pled "facts" which were contradicted by various deposition testimony, thus violating the duty to make a reasonable inquiry into the facts before filing a pleading. Second, it claimed that Ladner's counsel knew, or should have known, that refiling previously dismissed claims, and seeking previously rejected relief, without leave to do so, was barred by res judicata, thus violating counsel's duty to make a reasonable inquiry into the law before filing a pleading. Thornton Township also sought sanctions under 27 U.S.C. § 1927 for counsel's alleged conduct in unreasonably multiplying proceedings, and reasonable attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k) as the prevailing party against Ladner. The district court, adopting the magistrate's Report and Recommendation in full, denied any award of sanctions or costs, concluding that Ladner's second amended complaint was not frivolous. ] Our standard in reviewing the district court's decision to deny sanctions is a highly deferential one, and we look only for clear errors of fact or an abuse of discretion. Mars Steel Corp. v. Continental Bank N.A., 880 F.2d 928, 939 (7th Cir. 1989) (en banc). The relevant inquiry [*5] is not how we would review the issue as an original matter, but whether the district court's decision lacked any reasonable basis. See Walter v. Fiorenzo, 840 F.2d 427 (7th Cir. 1988). Given this highly deferential standard of review, we are forced to conclude the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Thornton Township's motion for sanctions. While this is admittedly a close case, one that we might well have decided differently as an original matter, we defer to the district court's findings in this case.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
1992 U.S. App. LEXIS 16809 *
CATHERINE LADNER, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. THORNTON TOWNSHIP and THORNTON TOWNSHIP YOUTH COMMITTEE, INC., Defendants-Appellants.
Notice: [*1] UNPUBLISHED ORDER NOT TO BE CITED PER SEVENTH CIRCUIT RULE 53
Subsequent History: Reported as Table case at 968 F.2d 1218, 1992 U.S. App. LEXIS 22836.
Prior History: Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. 87 C 6885. James B. Zagel, Judge.
Disposition: The district court's decision to deny sanctions is AFFIRMED, and the defendant's request for Rule 38 sanctions is GRANTED.
district court, sanctions, frivolous, second amended complaint, cross-appeal, amended complaint, Recommendation, contends, abused, deposition testimony, attorney's fees, contradicted, asserts
Civil Procedure, Attorneys, General Overview, Sanctions, Baseless Filings, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Labor & Employment Law, Title VII Discrimination, Remedies, Costs & Attorney Fees, Clearly Erroneous Review, Judicial Officers, Magistrates, Pretrial Referrals, Standards of Review, Trial by Consent, Misconduct & Unethical Behavior, Criminal Law & Procedure, Abuse of Discretion, Costs & Attorney Fees, Civil Rights Law, Procedural Matters, Statutory Attorney Fee Awards, Frivolous Appeals