United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
& ORDER GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANTS' SECOND MOTION
FOR SANCTIONS (Dkt. 34); GRANTING IN PART DEFENDANTS'
AMENDED MOTION FOR SANCTIONS (Dkt. 77); DENYING
DEFENDANTS' JOINT MOTION FOR SANCTIONS (Dkt. 23); DENYING
DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR RULE 11 SANCTIONS (Dkt. 76); AND
DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO STRIKE (Dkt. 83)
MARK A. GOLDSMITH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' joint motion
for sanctions (Dkt. 23); second motion for sanctions (Dkt.
34); motion for Rule 11 sanctions (Dkt. 76); amended motion
for sanctions (Dkt. 77); and joint motion to strike
Plaintiffs' response (Dkt. 83). For the reasons that follow,
the Court grants in part the second motion for sanctions
(Dkt. 34) and amended motion for sanctions (Dkt. 77), and
denies all other motions.
lawsuit arose out of the relocation of the Detroit Pistons
professional basketball team from Auburn Hills, Michigan to
the Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Plaintiffs Robert Davis
and Etta Wilcoxon are residents of Wayne County who claimed
that Defendants planned to unlawfully use revenue generated
from the Detroit Public Schools operating millage and the
2016 Wayne County Parks millage to fund certain aspects of
the Pistons' relocation. Plaintiffs alleged that this
violated their fundamental rights to vote, then later amended
their complaint to add claims for violations of substantive
and procedural due process and of the Racketeering Influenced
Corrupt Organization (“RICO”) Act. See
Compl. (Dkt. 1); Am. Compl. (Dkt. 15).
filed the instant lawsuit on June 1, 2017, and filed an
emergency motion for a temporary restraining order or
preliminary injunction four days later (Dkt. 8). The day
before the Defendants' response to this emergency motion
was due, Plaintiffs filed a second emergency motion, for a
declaratory judgment with respect to Count VII of the amended
complaint (Dkt. 19). Defendants filed a motion to sanction
Plaintiffs for the filing of this second emergency motion on
June 14, 2017 (Dkt. 23).
then filed a motion to strike Defendants' response to the
emergency motion for a TRO and/or preliminary injunction
(Dkt. 25). Defendants sought sanctions a second time for the
motion to strike (Dkt. 34). On June 19, 2017, the Court
denied the emergency motion for a TRO or preliminary
injunction (Dkt. 47).
27, 2017 Plaintiffs filed a separate complaint, Davis v.
Detroit Public School Community District, No.
17-cv-12100 (“Davis II”), raising
different claims against different defendants, but again
seeking to prevent the use of school operating millage to
fund the Pistons' relocation. Three days later,
Defendants served Plaintiffs with a copy of a motion for
sanctions under Rule 11of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. See 6/30/2017 Email, Ex. 1 to Pl. Resp.
to Am. Mot. for Sanctions (Dkt. 78-1). On July 1, 2017,
Plaintiffs filed a notice of voluntary dismissal of the
instant case (Dkt. 62).
filed a joint motion for sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 11 (Dkt. 76) and an amended motion for
sanctions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927, this Court's
inherent authority, and 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (Dkt. 77) on
September 6, 2017.
various motions for sanctions, Defendants argue that this
Court should impose sanctions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1927, this Court's inherent authority, 42 U.S.C. §
1988, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. The Court will
address each argument in turn.
Sanctions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and the
Court's inherent authority
1927 of Title 28 provides that attorneys' fees may be
awarded where an attorney “so multiplies the
proceedings in any case unreasonably and
vexatiously[.]” Sanctions may be appropriate when an
attorney knows or reasonably should know that her claim is
frivolous, or that her litigation tactics will
“needlessly obstruct the litigation of nonfrivolous
claims.” Jones v. Cont'l Corp., 789 F.2d
1225, 1230 (6th Cir. 1986). The court need not find bad faith
on the part of the sanctioned party. Dixon v. Clem,
492 F.3d 665, 679 (6th Cir. 2007); see also In re
Ruben, 825 F.2d 977, 983-984 (6th Cir. 1987) (noting
that “a relaxed standard” is applicable to §
1927 sanctions, as a court may assess fees against an
attorney “despite the absence of any conscious
impropriety”) (emphasis in original). However,
“[s]imple inadvertence or negligence that frustrates
the trial judge will not support a sanction under section
1927.” Ridder v. City of Springfield, 109 F.3d
288, 298 (6th Cir. 1997); see also Red Carpet Studios
Div. of Source Advantage, Ltd. v. Sater, 465 F.3d 642,
646 (6th Cir. 2006) (“§ 1927 sanctions require . .
. something more than negligence or incompetence.”).
also urge the Court to impose sanctions under its inherent
authority. “A district judge has inherent equitable
power to award attorneys' fees for ‘bad faith'
or frivolous conduct of a case, ” whether against a
party or against her attorney. In re Ruben, 825 F.2d
at 983. The court may sanction a party “when a party
has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for
oppressive reasons.” Chambers v. NASCO, Inc.,
501 U.S. 32, 45-46 (1991) (internal quotations omitted). To
impose sanctions under this bad faith standard, Sixth Circuit
law requires a district court to find: (i) the claims
advanced were meritless; (ii) counsel for the offending party
knew or had reason to know the claims were meritless; and
(iii) the motive for filing the suit was an improper purpose
such as harassment. Metz v. Unizan Bank, 655 F.3d
485, 489 (6th Cir. 2011). Although the filing of a meritless
claim may be evidence of bad faith, the “mere fact that
an action is without merit does not amount to bad
faith.” BDT Prods., Inc. v. Lexmark Intern,
Inc., 602 F.3d 742, 753 (6th Cir. 2010). “[T]he
court must find something more than that a party
knowingly pursued a meritless claim or action at any stage of
the proceedings.” Id. (emphasis in original).
This “something more” could be a finding that the
party filed suit for purposes of harassment or delay, or for
other improper reasons, see Big Yank Corp. v. Liberty
Mut. Ins. Co., 125 F.3d 308, 314 (6th Cir. 1997); a
finding that the plaintiff had improperly used the courts by
filing a meritless lawsuit and withholding material
evidence, First Bank of Marietta, 307 F.3d at 523 n.
18; or a finding that the party was delaying or disrupting
the litigation or hampering enforcement of a court order,
Chambers, 501 U.S. at 46.
argue that Plaintiffs brought their claims for an improper
purpose; that is, to disrupt the financing of the Little
Caesars Arena “through the mere pendency of the
litigation” and to promote their own political careers.
Defs. Mot. at 4 (Dkt. 77). Defendants argue that the
emergency motion for a TRO or preliminary injunction did not
attempt to show irreparable harm; that Plaintiffs publicized
this action online and attempted to gain media exposure; that
Plaintiffs filed frivolous motions in an attempt to prevent
Defendants from fully responding to their motion for a TRO or
preliminary injunction; and that Plaintiffs voluntarily
dismissed this case when it appeared that a ruling on the
Defendants' motion to dismiss was imminent. Id.
at 4-5. Defendants also claim that Plaintiffs timed the
filing of their claims in order to cause maximum prejudicial
effect, noting that Plaintiff Wilcoxon waited ...