Law School Case Brief
United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co. - 11 F.3d 450 (4th Cir. 1993)
A court must not only exercise its inherent power to dismiss a case as a sanction with restraint, but may do so only after considering the following factors: (1) the degree of the wrongdoer's culpability; (2) the extent of the client's blameworthiness if the wrongful conduct is committed by its attorney, recognizing that we seldom dismiss claims against blameless clients; (3) the prejudice to the judicial process and the administration of justice; (4) the prejudice to the victim; (5) the availability of other sanctions to rectify the wrong by punishing culpable persons, compensating harmed persons, and deterring similar conduct in the future; and (6) the public interest.
In an action brought by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to recover over $5 million in costs incurred in cleaning up a hazardous waste site in Minden, West Virginia, the district court found that the government's attorneys deliberately and in bad faith breached their duty of candor owed to the court during the course of proceedings. The court found that Robert E. Caron, the EPA's on-scene coordinator for the cleanup, had misrepresented his academic achievements and credentials in this and in other cases and that the government's attorneys wrongfully obstructed the defendants' efforts to root out the discrepancies and failed to reveal them once they learned of them. Finding the breaches "most egregious and disturbing," the district court dismissed the action with prejudice, concluding that dismissal was "the only sanction available that is consistent with the duty of candor violations." The court also awarded the defendants attorney's fees. On appeal, the government contended that the district court adopted an overly broad interpretation of the applicable rules of lawyer conduct and abused its discretion in imposing the most severe sanction by dismissing the action.
Was the dismissal of the action the only sanction that is consistent with the duty of candor violations?
The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s findings of fact and its conclusion that the government attorneys violated their duty of candor. However, in light of the strong policy that cases be decided on their merits, the Court averred that outright dismissal was not required to punish and deter effectively the misconduct in question and to repair the wrongs done to defendants. Thus, the Court vacated the judgment and remanded solely for the purpose of entering a sanction short of dismissal.
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