Brief Fact Summary.
Lawton appealed a Rule 11 sanction after failing to determine the validity of his Laura Karemer’s claims in her suit against the sheriff of Grant County.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
An attorney’s investigation into the facts need not be absolutely certain, but be reasonable to avoid Rule 11 sanctions.
Concerns for the effect on both an attorney's reputation and for the vigor and creativity of advocacy by other members of the bar necessarily require that we exercise less than total deference to the district court in its decision to impose Rule 11 sanctions.View Full Point of Law
Mark D. Lawton, an attorney, was hired by Laura Kraemer (Kraemer), a tenant who claimed that the sheriff of grant County sought to evict her and steal her belongings. Lawton hired a private investigator to validate Kraemer’s claims, but the investigator neither denied nor confirmed Kraemer’s allegations. The case was later dismissed on a motion for summary judgment and Kraemer was ordered to pay for Grant County’s attorney’s fees. Lawton was sanctioned under Rule 11.
Whether an attorney must be certain of the facts of claim prior to filing suit.
No. Lawton cannot be held responsible if the defendants did not cooperate with the investigator or confess to the plaintiff’s claims. If discovery is required to obtain information that is otherwise undiscoverable, then the plaintiff and legal counsel cannot face sanctions for facts that can be revealed through discovery. Rule 11 sanctions would prevent attorneys from representing clients who are unable to obtain all facts of a claim prior to a case. The judgment of the district court is reversed.
To determine whether an attorney made a reasonable investigation, the court considers: (1) how much time the attorney had to investigate, (2) how much the attorney was required to rely on the client’s testimony, (3) and how much discovery will compel the revelation of facts in the case.