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Bennett v. McDermott International Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lake Charles Division

August 21, 2019

KENDRICK BENNETT, ET AL.
v.
MCDERMOTT INTERNATIONAL INC., ET AL.

          KAY MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

          MEMORANDUM RULING AND ORDER

          SAMES D. CAIN, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the court is a Motion for Sanctions filed under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by defendant CB&I, LLC ("CB&I"). Plaintiffs oppose the motion and request reimbursement of attorney fees they have incurred in responding. Doc. 86.

         I.

         Background

         This motion relates to plaintiffs' suit filed against their alleged employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., and the Louisiana Wage Payment Act ("LWPA"), Louisiana Revised Statute § 23:631 et seq. Plaintiffs claimed that they were entitled to compensation under those statutes for time spent commuting to and from work on an employer-mandated busing system. See doc. 15. Upon consideration of the defendants' motions filed under Rule 12(b)(6), the court dismissed plaintiffs' claims under both laws with prejudice. Docs. 97, 98. CB&I, one of the alleged employers, now moves for sanctions under Rule 11. It argues that plaintiffs' federal claims lack legal or factual support and that plaintiffs' counsel failed to conduct an adequate inquiry into these claims before filing suit. Doc. 64.

         II.

         Law & Application

         A central purpose of Rule 11 is "to spare innocent parties and overburdened courts from the filing of frivolous lawsuits." Kurkowski v. Volcker, 819 F.2d 201, 204 (8th Cir. 1987). Rule 11(b) provides in relevant part that, by presenting a pleading, motion, or other paper to the court, an attorney certifies to the best of his "knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances," that:

(2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law or for establishing new law; [and]
(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[.]

         A violation of these provisions by counsel justifies sanctions under Rule 11(c). See Whitehead v. Food Max of Miss., Inc., 332 F.3d 796, 802 (5th Cir. 2003). In determining whether an attorney has violated Rule 11(b), the court uses an objective standard of reasonableness under the circumstances. Id. (citing Childs v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 29 F.3d 1018, 1024 (5th Cir. 1994)). The imposition of sanctions under this rule is usually a fact-intensive inquiry, and the trial court is accorded substantial deference. Thomas v. Capital Sec. Svcs., 836 F.2d 866, 873 (5th Cir. 1988).

         CB&I argues that plaintiffs failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the facts and law prior to filing suit. Specifically, it alleges that (1) plaintiffs' minimum wage claims are impossible under the applicable Fifth Circuit standards and (2) plaintiffs' claims are barred under the Portal-to-Portal act and applicable precedent.[1] Doc. 64, att. 1. The court did not reach the first allegation in considering the defendants' motions to dismiss, because it found that plaintiffs' federal claims were more easily dismissed under the second. For the purposes of determining whether plaintiffs committed an 11(b) violation, however, the court will also consider the first allegation here.

         A. ...


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