In requiring reasonable inquiry before the filing of any pleading in a civil case in federal district court, Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 demands an objective determination of whether a sanctioned party's conduct was reasonable under the circumstances; in effect it imposes a negligence standard, for negligence is a failure to use reasonable care.
After plaintiff teachers prepared a manual for their students on how to use certain word processors, their employer gave the manual to defendant company and asked it to modify the manual so that it could be used for word processors made by defendant. Plaintiffs then sued defendants, alleging both common law and statutory copyright infringement. A judgment was entered for defendant for plaintiffs' failure to state a claim; a defense motion for sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 was taken under advisement. Several months later, sanctions were awarded against plaintiffs' attorney personally; the sanctions order also awarded defendant fees and costs pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. Plaintiffs then filed a notice of appeal.
Is a claim for damages due to infringement of a common law copyright frivolous, thereby exposing counsel to sanctions?
The court dismissed plaintiff teachers' appeal because the notice of appeal was not timely filed (plaintiffs had failed to file a notice of appeal within 30 days of the judgment), and the sanctions proceedings did not toll the time in which to take the appeal. The court affirmed the order that awarded sanctions against plaintiffs' attorney because it was not an abuse of discretion since much of the action was frivolous; the court ruled that plaintiffs' attorney had acted unreasonably in pressing the suit as far as he did. The common law claim was frivolous because it had been abolished by statute. Although the claim of infringement of a statutory copyright was not frivolous, the teachers' request for monetary and injunctive relief was frivolous. Defendant was further awarded fees and costs for defending against the appeal because it was frivolous.