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.
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.
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.
1. FRCP 11 requires an attorney to, prior to filing a complaint, conduct a reasonable factual investigation and perform adequate legal research to confirm the basis for the complaint and whether it is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for an extension, modification, or reversal of existing law.
2. It is the court’s job to determine whether the complaint was legally or factually baseless and whether or not the attorney conducted a reasonable and competent inquiry before signing and filing it.
3. Plaintiff’s claim is meritless and Hicks would have known this had he conducted a reasonable investigation.
4. However, the district court exceeded what FRCP 11 allows in citing Hicks’ other misconduct in authorizing the sanctions.
5. FRCP 11 does not allow sanctions for discovery abuses or falsehoods made in other cases.