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A district court may sanction an attorney for presenting a paper to the court for any improper purpose, such as to harass. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(1). Although a district court is not to read an ulterior motive into a document "well grounded in fact and law," it may do so in exceptional cases where the improper purpose is objectively ascertainable.
The district court entered a $ 3.4 million judgment in plaintiffs' favor. Three days after the retailer's post-trial motions were denied, plaintiffs' attorney obtained a writ of execution for the judgment, notified the media, and attempted to execute the judgment by seizing cash from one of the retailer's stores. During interviews at the store, the attorney made misleading comments concerning the retailer's willingness to pay the judgment. The defendant retailer filed a motion for Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 sanctions against plaintiffs' attorney, which the district court granted. The retailer claimed that the attorney violated an automatic 10-day stay of execution of judgment, but the attorney argued that no stay was in effect.
Under the circumstances, was the imposition of sanctions against the plaintiff’s attorney proper?
eviewing the imposition of sanctions under a deferential standard, the appellate court found no abuse of discretion. Even assuming that the attorney had an objectively reasonable belief that no stay was in effect and that he therefore did not violate Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(2), the district court independently found that the attorney violated Rule 11(b)(1). The attorney requested the writ for the improper purposes of embarrassing the retailer and promoting himself. The attorney's conduct in contacting the media and making improper comments constituted evidence of improper purpose.