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Marchman v. Crawford

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

July 20, 2018

JUDGE SHARON INGRAM MARCHMAN
v.
BRIAN E. CRAWFORD, ET AL.

          PEREZ-MONTES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court are two separate Motions for Sanctions (Record Documents 60 and 82) filed by Defendants, Brian E. Crawford (“Crawford”) and Allyson Campbell (“Campbell”) (collectively “Defendants”).[1] Crawford requests the Court to impose sanctions against Judge Sharon Marchman (“Marchman”) and her counsel, Joseph Ward (“Ward”) and Sedric Banks (“Banks”) (collectively “counsel”) for violating Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Campbell only seeks to impose sanctions against Marchman's counsel for violating Rule 11. See Record Document 85. The Defendants are also seeking relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927 against Marchman's counsel. For the reasons which follow, the Defendants' Motions for Sanctions are GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The factual and procedural background of this case is extensive. This Court as well as the Fifth Circuit have meticulously set forth the factual and procedural background. See Record Document 94; Marchman v. Crawford, 726 Fed.Appx. 978, 985-87 (5th Cir. 2018)(unpublished). Therefore, for purposes of this Memorandum Ruling, addressing both Crawford and Campbell's Motions for Sanctions, the Court adopts by reference the prior factual and procedural backgrounds of this Court and the Fifth Circuit.

         This litigation, as well as several other related cases, involves allegations by Marchman and others that Campbell engaged in a number of unethical and/or illegal activities during Campbell's tenure as a law clerk for the Fourth Judicial District Court (“JDC”). See Record Document 1 at ¶¶ 7-18. Marchman's only issue with Crawford in this action arose out of statements made in pleadings filed during his representation of Campbell in Palowsky v. Campbell. See Record Document 1 at ¶¶ 16, 71-77, and 82. Specifically, Marchman and her counsel contend that Crawford (and Campbell) lied when they misrepresented to the Fourth JDC that Marchman improperly and illegally disclosed Campbell's private employment information. See id. As noted extensively in prior rulings, Marchman's issues with Campbell are more prevalent and are the subject matter of the litigation.

         Marchman filed the instant federal civil rights lawsuit on April 19, 2016. See Record Document 1. She argues that Defendants' actions have caused her a loss of reputation, “turned her into a virtual pariah at the courthouse, ” caused her to lose her position as chair and member of the personnel committee, and generally have harmed her ability to perform her duties as a judge. Record Document 22 at ¶¶ 85-96. On May 13, 2016, Marchman filed an Amended Complaint in which she clarified that she is suing all of the Defendant Judges, Pettiette, and Caldwell for damages in their individual capacities and is seeking only prospective injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and attorney's fees against the Defendant Judges and Pettiette in their official capacities.[2] See Record Document 22 at ¶ 6.

         In the Amended Complaint, Marchman also added several new causes of action. See id. at ¶¶ 103-105 and 112-114. Thus, Marchman's causes of action are as follows: (1)-(3) 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986 causes of action against all Defendants for violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech; (4)-(6) 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986 causes of action against all Defendants for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection; and (7)-(10) 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2202 causes of action against all Defendants for injunctive relief to prevent future violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and declaratory relief that Defendants' past actions violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. See id. at ¶¶ 97-122. Finally, Marchman sought her attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. See id. at ¶¶ 123-124.

         This Court dismissed all of Marchman's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on February 17, 2017. See Record Documents 94 and 95. Marchman appealed this Court's dismissal of her claim that Defendants retaliated against her for exercising her First Amendment right to free speech. The Fifth Circuit affirmed this Court's decision. See Record Document 106. Accordingly, Crawford and Campbell's Motions for Sanctions are now ripe for review.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The Court will first analyze whether a violation of Rule 11(b)(1)-(3) occurred and if so, whether sanctions are warranted. Finally, the Court will analyze whether the Court can award relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927 against Marchman's counsel for excessive costs.

         I. Sanctions Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.[3]

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(c)(1) provides that sanctions may be imposed by the Court on “any attorney, law firm, or party that violated the rule or is responsible for the violation.” Rule 11 provides in relevant part:

(b) Representations to Court. By presenting to the court (whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating) a pleading, written motion, or other paper, an attorney ... is certifying that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances, -
(1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation;
(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions therein are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law;
(3) the factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, will likely have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery . . . .

Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(1)-(3). “In determining whether an attorney has met his Rule 11 obligation, the court applies the “snapshot rule, ” which focuses on the attorney's conduct as of the moment the document was signed. Jordaan v. Hall, 275 F.Supp.2d 778, 787 (N.D. Tex. 2003) (citing Thomas v. Capital Security Services, Inc., 836 F.2d 866, 874 (5th Cir.1988) (en banc) (“Like a snapshot, Rule 11 review focuses upon the instant when the picture is taken-when the signature is placed on the document.”)). “Once the snapshot has been taken, the court measures Rule 11 compliance under an objective standard of reasonableness.” Jordaan, 275 F.Supp.2d at 787.

         A. Whether a violation of Rule 11(b)(1) occurred.

         Rule 11(b)(1) prohibits an attorney from filing a federal action for any improper purpose, i.e., harass, cause unnecessary delay or needlessly increase the cost of litigation. See Jordaan v. Hall, 275 F.Supp.2d 778, 786 (N.D. Tex. 2003); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(1). Consequently, where it is objectively ascertainable that an attorney has submitted a paper to the court for an improper purpose, sanctions may be imposed. Id. at 786 (citations omitted). Because attorneys' conduct are now analyzed by courts under an objective, not subjective, standard of reasonableness under the circumstances, good faith alone is not enough to protect attorneys from Rule 11 sanctions. See Childs v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 29 F.3d 1018, 1024 (5th Cir. 1994).

         Since 2014 in Palowsky v. Cork, Ward and Banks have been making allegations against Campbell and Defendant Judges. See Record Document 40, Exhibits 1, 2, and 4. After counsels' efforts to gain recusal of the entire Fourth Judicial District Court, they moved on to suing Campbell and Defendant Judges personally. See id., Exhibits 2, 4 and 5. In Palowsky v. Campbell, counsel, on Palowsky's behalf, accused the Defendant Judges and Campbell of conspiring to inflict intentional torts upon and violate Palowsky's constitutional rights, in addition to purportedly being complicit in Campbell's alleged document destruction and payroll fraud. See id., Exhibit 5. Furthermore, by her own admission, Marchman has had complaints about Campbell since 2010, and has actively (but unsuccessfully) sought her termination. See Record Document 1 at ¶¶ 18, 41, 49. Furthermore, Defendants cite to a letter to the Fourth Judicial District judiciary and the District Attorney from the State Inspector General, dated April 15, 2016, four days before the present lawsuit was filed, to show that the present action was filed for an improper purpose. The letter stated that “the available facts do not provide a sufficient cause for the arrest of Ms. Campbell for any criminal offense”, i.e., document destruction and payroll fraud. Record Document 40, Exhibit 13. Because Campbell did not suffer criminal consequences due to her alleged actions, Defendants contend that Marchman and her counsel wanted ...


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