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Peake v. Patterson

September 28, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Before the Court are four motions for sanctions filed by Plaintiff (Doc. Nos. 42, 44, 47, and 52). The motions are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motions will be denied.


At all times relevant to this litigation, Plaintiff Suzanne Peake worked as a welfare fraud investigator supervisor at the Office of the Inspector General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. On August 18, 2005, Peake brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against her superiors -- Defendants Donald Patterson, Donald McCarthy, and Earl Smith -- alleging that they retaliated against her for exercising her First Amendment rights. (Doc. No. 1.) Jury selection in the case occurred on February 5, 2007, and presentation of the evidence began on February 13, 2007. On February 16, 2007, the jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff's favor with damages in the amount of $90,500.

Shortly before trial commenced, Plaintiff filed four motions for sanctions (Doc. Nos. 42, 44, 47, 52), and submitted an omnibus brief in support of those motions (Doc. No. 53). Thereafter, Defendants filed briefs in opposition to the motions. (Doc. Nos. 72, 73, 80, 81.)


Plaintiff does not identify the source of authority by which she seeks sanctions. Various Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for sanctions in certain situations. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11, 16(f), 26(g), 37(g); accord LR 37.1, 83.3. There are also statutory provisions that authorize sanctions. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1927. None of these sources of sanctioning authority apply to the circumstances outlined in Plaintiff's motions. Rather, Plaintiff invokes the Court's inherent power to sanction. Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 50-51 (1991).

District courts have the inherent power to sanction attorneys who engage in abusive litigation practices. Roadway Express Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 765 (1980) (citing Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 632 (1962)). However, the inherent power to sanction must be used sparingly because such power is "shielded from direct democratic controls," id., and because of the "very potency" of the power, Chambers, 501 U.S. at 44. Thus, the inherent power to sanction is generally "reserved for those cases in which the conduct of a party or an attorney is egregious and no other basis for sanctions exists." In re Prudential Ins. Co. Am. Sales Practice Litig. Agent Actions, 278 F.3d 175, 189 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Martin v. Brown, 63 F.3d 1252, 1265 (3d Cir. 1995)).

Generally, before exercising its inherent power to sanction, a court must make a finding of bad faith on the part of the attorney. Tracinda Corp. v. DaimlerChrysler AG, - F.3d -, Nos. 05-2363, 05-2482, 2007 WL 2701965, at *26 (3d Cir. Sept. 18, 2007). Additionally, due-process considerations require a court to provide "fair notice and an opportunity for a hearing on the record." Angelico v. Lehigh Valley Hosp., Inc., 184 F.3d 268, 279 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Roadway Express, 447 U.S. at 767).


Plaintiff argues that the Court should impose sanction for two reasons: (1) because Defendants unreasonably and repeatedly delayed the production of their trial exhibits; and (2) because defense counsel violated a court order by obtaining medical records without Plaintiff's permission. The Court will address each basis for sanctions in turn.

A. Defendants' Alleged Failure to Timely Provide Exhibits (Doc. Nos. 42, 44)

In her first two motions for sanctions (Doc. Nos. 42, 44), Plaintiff complains that Defendants failed to provide Plaintiff with trial exhibits in a timely fashion. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that Defendants refused to provide Plaintiff with their trial exhibits until the eve of trial, in a deliberate effort to impede Plaintiff's ability to present her case.

Trial was set to commence in this case on February 5, 2007. On January 12, 2007, the Court held a pretrial conference with the parties, and Plaintiff did not object to any failure to provide the exhibits. On the morning of January 31, 2007, the Court convened a telephone conference to discuss an outstanding discovery dispute regarding Plaintiff's medical records, discussed below. Once again, Plaintiff raised no objection to Defendants' dilatory production of the exhibits. Having failed to mention any concerns during the conference held earlier that morning, on the evening of January 31, 2007, Plaintiff filed her first motion for sanctions. ...

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