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Moore v. Air Methods, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 29, 2015

ROBERT W. MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
AIR METHODS, INC. and PHPA OPEIU, LOCAL 109, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT D. MARIANI, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Sanctions of Defendant, Air Methods, Inc. (Doc. 33). Defendant, PHPA OPEIU Local 109 ("Local 109"), moved to join in Air Methods' Motion (Doc. 40), and was allowed to do so by Order of this Court on December 17, 2014 (Doc. 43).

Previously, this Court entered summary judgment in favor of Local 109 and Air Methods on the basis that Plaintiff had unequivocal notice as of April 5, 2012 that the Union would take no further action on his behalf of any kind. This Court ruled that the statute of limitations commenced to run as of April 5, 2012 and that Plaintiffs subsequent lawsuit was time-barred. (Docs. 44, 45).

II. Air Methods' Motion for Sanctions

Air Methods seeks the imposition of sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 as well as 28 U.S.C. § 1927. It submits that "[b]ecause Plaintiff's Complaint was not filed within the limitations period and there are no objectively reasonable legal or factual bases to find otherwise, Plaintiff and Mr. Russo failed to meet the standards of Rule 11 and Section 1927." (Air Methods' Br. in Supp. of Mot. for Sanctions, Doc. 34, at 6). Air Methods notes that "Plaintiff did not file his Complaint until March 4, 2014 - almost 17 months after the statute of limitations period passed." ( Id. at 7).

Further, Air Methods makes reference to the Plaintiff's deposition testimony where Plaintiff, when asked whether he had any facts that led him to believe that he would receive a response to his April 19, 2012 e-mail to Local 109, answered: "A. I had no facts that I would receive. I was - I - I was hoping that they would respond to it. Q. So you were hoping that they would? A. Yeah...." ( Id. at 8; Dep. of Moore, at 145:12-25; 146:1-4). Accordingly, Air Methods argues that "Plaintiff did not have any evidence at the time of filing the Complaint, nor any objectively reasonable belief that such evidence would be uncovered through discovery, that would alter the accrual date of his claim." (Doc. 34, at 8).

Air Methods further argues that "[t]he absence of any objectively reasonable basis to toll the statute of limitations further evidences that Rule 11 sanctions are warranted." ( Id. ). Air Methods argues that Plaintiffs counsel "either failed to complete any reasonable investigation' or research as required by Rule 11 to discover the relevant statute of limitations period or Mr. Russo did conduct an investigation into the facts, researched the relevant law, and knew Plaintiff's claim was barred by the statute of limitations, but chose to file the Complaint anyway. Both are objectively unreasonable and, therefore, violate Rule 11." ( Id. at 9).

Air Methods similarly finds fault with Plaintiff and his counsel in their refusal to withdraw Plaintiff's Complaint after the close of discovery, arguing that "Plaintiff and Mr. Russo's failure to withdraw the Complaint, despite having specific notice that the allegations were not supported by law or fact, violates Rule 11 and Section 1927." ( Id. at 11).

Air Methods continues in its brief in support of its motion to assail the conduct of Plaintiff and Plaintiff's counsel, arguing that "[i]t is not objectively reasonable for Plaintiff and Mr. Russo to maintain this action after being specifically informed via Air Methods' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings that the claim was barred and after the discovery period revealed no exceptions to such bar." ( Id. at 12).

Air Methods also seeks sanctions against Plaintiff's counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927. In its brief, Air Methods asserts "[t]here can be no doubt Mr. Russo's refusal to withdraw the Complaint multiplied the proceedings in an unreasonable and vexatious manner, thereby increasing the cost of the proceedings because it required Air Methods to prepare and file a Renewed Motion and to incur the costs associated with such motion." ( Id. at 12-13). Accordingly, Air Methods states that "the only issue is whether Mr. Russo's continued prosecution of this action constituted bad faith." (Doc. 34, at 13). Air Methods then answers the question it posed by arguing that "Mr. Russo's knowledge that the Complaint is legally frivolous, combined with his decision to nevertheless continue prosecuting this matter, demonstrates his bad faith." ( Id. ).

In response, Plaintiff argues that Air Methods' Motion for Sanctions "should have been filed ten months ago." (Pl.'s Br. in Opp. of Mot. for Sanctions, Doc. 38, at 2). Plaintiff argues that if his suit was as frivolous as Air Methods claims, it would have been dismissed by this Court at the time Air Methods and Local 109 moved to dismiss it. ( Id. ).

Plaintiff devotes much of his Brief to identifying the standard for determining whether sanctions should be granted under Rule 11, but offers little to show why sanctions should not be granted in this case. That is to say, the Plaintiff's brief does not show how, under the objective standard of reasonableness which this Court must apply in determining whether sanctions should be imposed under Rule 11, see, e.g., Mary Ann Pensiero, Inc. v. Lingle, 847 F.2d 90, 94 (3d Cir. 1988), Plaintiff had abasis to file suit.

Plaintiff does, however, rely upon Gaiardo v. Ethyl Corporation, 835 F.2d 479, 483 (3d Cir. 1987), where the Court limited the imposition of sanctions under Rule 11, stating:

[i]t follows that Rule 11 sanctions are improper in situations which do not involve signing a paper. Thus, the Rule should not be invoked against an attorney who fails to dismiss a case after the opposing attorney submits evidence that a statute of limitations or res judicata bars the suit.

835 F.2d.at 484.

Air Methods, in its Reply Brief, notes that "although Pensiero does state that prompt action is required under Rule 11, it does not set a time limit or require a Rule 11 motion for sanctions be filed within a specific period time." (Air Methods Reply Sr., Doc. 41, at 5). Air Methods argues that it moved for sanctions "promptly upon discovering a basis for doing so. Although it was immediately clear that Plaintiffs Complaint was unmeritorious, it did not become clear that Plaintiff and Mr. Russo violated Rule 11 until the completion of discovery." ( Id. )

Air Methods thus argues that sanctions are appropriate against Plaintiff's counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1927, since its counsel contacted Plaintiff's counsel after the close of discovery and asked that Plaintiff withdraw his Complaint because it was barred by the statute of limitations and no facts had been disclosed warranting the "tolling, estoppel, or alteration of the accrual date of Plaintiffs claim." Air Methods asserts Plaintiffs counsel "became hostile, refused to engage in the conversation, and abruptly terminated the telephone call" ( Id. at 8).

Air Methods contends that Plaintiffs arguments in opposition to Air Methods' Motion for Summary Judgment were frivolous, unsupported by the applicable case law and together with Plaintiff's counsel's behavior, demonstrates Plaintiff's counsel's bad faith. Air Methods thus argues: "Mr. Russo's conduct demonstrates the unavoidable conclusion that he maintained this action for the sole purpose of harassing Air Methods and costing Air Methods the time and expense associated with defending this frivolous matter. Mr. Russo's behavior violated Section 1927. The Court must sanction Mr. Russo to deter his behavior." ( Id. at 8-9).

Lastly, Air Methods argues that Plaintiffs counsel has a "history of sanctionable conduct" and cites several cases where Defendant contends that Plaintiffs counsel "has been warned by judges in this district as well as others that his behavior borders on Rule 11 violations." ( Id. at 10).[1]

With the respective positions of the parties as to the appropriateness of sanctions having been summarized, we turn to a statement of the governing law and its application to this case.

A. Motion for Sanctions under Rule 11

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b) provides as follows:

By presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper-whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it-an attorney or unrepresented party certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and ...

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