- Attorney Sanctioned for Moving for Sanctions
- August 28, 2009
- Law Firm: Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP - Chicago Office
Northwest Bypass Group v. US Army Corps of Engineers, 569 F.3d 4 (1st Cir 2009)
An attorney who moved for sanctions based on uninvestigated allegations of criminal misconduct was himself sanctioned because his motion lacked any factual basis.
The Northwest Bypass Group was formed to challenge a bypass project in Concord, New Hampshire. Attorney Gordon Blakeney spearheaded the group. After the group sued the Army Corps of Engineers and the city in federal court, two of the supposed members of the group, the Tuttles (who were engaged in separate negotiations with the city), told the city they were not involved in the lawsuit.
The city contacted Blakeney to clarify whether the Tuttles were plaintiffs. In response, Blakeney filed a motion for sanctions and a motion to disqualify the city’s counsel, alleging conduct rising to the level of criminality. The city then filed its own motion for sanctions, alleging that Blakeney’s motion was vexatious.
The First Circuit upheld the district court by granting the city’s motion under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and denying Blakeney’s motion. The court noted, given the city’s history of negotiations with the Tuttles, that the city was justified in seeking to determine whether Blakeney represented them. The court also held that Blakeney’s claims lacked even a remote basis, and ordered him to pay the city’s attorney fees for failure to adequately investigate his claims. The city was not required to establish bad faith because the sanction sought was not punitive. Nevertheless, the court denied the city appellate fees because Blakeney’s arguments on appeal were fair and made solely for the purpose of reversal.
Significance of Opinion
This opinion serves as a reminder that there is a limit to the acceptable level of “zeal” with which a lawyer may represent a client. The opinion is also notable for its holding that a showing of bad faith is not required to procure non-punitive sanctions under § 1927.