Brief Fact Summary.
An attorney brought suit for a plaintiff for copyright infringement even when plaintiff’s creation was created well after the product that allegedly infringed on the copyright.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Counsel has a duty prior to filing a complaint to conduct a reasonable factual investigation and to perform adequate legal research that confirms whether the basis for the complaint are warranted by existing law or good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal or existing law.
Nonetheless, Rule 11 sanctions are limited to papers signed in violation of the rule.View Full Point of Law
Hicks, an attorney, filed suit for Plaintiff Christian against Defendant Mattel Inc., alleging that Defendant’s Barbie dolls infringed on Plaintiff Christian’s doll sculpture copyright. Defendant moved for summary judgement and FRCP 11 sanctions both of which were granted by the district court. The attorney Hicks should have discovered prior to filing suit that Defendant Mattel’s dolls could not have infringed on Plaintiff’s doll sculpture copyright because it was created well in advance of Plaintiff’s Claudene doll. Additionally, Hicks was sanctioned for acting crudely during discovery and had a history of misconduct.
Are FRCP 11 sanctions appropriate when the attorney files a frivolous copyright claim and abuses the discovery process?
No, under FRCP 11 an attorney has a duty prior to filing a complaint to conduct a reasonable factual investigation and to perform adequate legal research that confirms the basis for the complaint, but it does not allow the court to sanction an attorney for discovery abuses or falsehoods made in other cases. Decision of the lower court is vacated and remanded for a determination of whether Hicks’s filing of the copyright complaint was itself sufficient for FRCP 11 sanctions.