Legal Memorandum: Appropriate Sanctions


Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Sanctions; Court's Inherent Power; Improper conduct
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 120 F.3d 368
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 03/01/2006

The court has an inherent power to impose sanctions on a party and/or his or her attorney for improper conduct.  See In re Tutu Wells Contamination Litig., 120 F.3d 368 (3d Cir. 1997) (overruled by implication on other grounds) (court has inherent power to impose sanctions to parties that have suffered financially due to opponent’s misconduct, provided due process requirements are met).  Further, the Tutu Wells court found that “it is beyond dispute that attorney’s fees are, in certain circumstances, properly awarded as a sanction.”  Tutu Wells, 120 F.3d at 387.  Also, the court elaborated that it was not aware of any precedent in the Third Circuit that categorically excludes from such an award attorney’s fees arising from the sanctions proceedings themselves and it further states that it did not “believe such a categorical exclusion is wise.”  Id. at 387-88.

The time, effort, and resources expended in bringing sanctionable conduct to light would have been unnecessary had the sanctionable conduct never occurred. These costs are as much a harm to a party in the litigation as is the delay in the litigation or the substantive prejudice caused by the conduct. If we exclude from a possible award the costs of sanctions proceedings, we would undermine the compensatory goal of a sanctions award.

Further, if a party is aware ex ante that the costs he incurs in exposing sanctionable conduct will never be recouped, that party may decide to forgo a sanctions proceeding altogether. […]

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