Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Springfield Division.
No. 96-C-3031 Richard Mills, Judge.
Before CUDAHY, ROVNER, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.
Benjamin Anderson thinks he should not have been convicted of misdemeanor theft. Usually such a contention is aired in a criminal appeal or a habeas corpus petition, but because Anderson long ago finished serving his short jail term, he instead seeks damages under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983. This appeal involves the dismissal of Anderson's suit and the sanctions imposed on his attorney, David Kahn, who filed and pursued the case on Anderson's behalf.
The material facts are not really in dispute. Anderson was a resident of Missouri until 1986, when he moved to Florida to avoid being held liable for child support. In Florida he assumed the alias "Buddy Dane Blaylock." In 1987 Anderson moved back to Missouri and stayed there until 1989. He then moved to Illinois and assumed the alias "Terry Lee Cain," again to avoid liability for child support.
While in Illinois, using the phony Cain name, Anderson purchased several vehicles and equipment with financing by defendants Boatmen's National Bank of Central Illinois and Illini Bank (a/k/a Coffeen State Bank and Trust Co.), among others. Anderson put some money down and made a few monthly payments, but he soon stopped paying and left Illinois (or so it seems) with some of the goods. Attorney Kelly D. Long, a defendant here, represented Boatmen's in a lawsuit brought to recover Anderson's debt or repossess some of the encumbered equipment.
In February 1993 an indictment issued in Montgomery County, Illinois, charging Anderson with providing a false name to obtain, by deception, financing on some of the equipment (valued at over $10,000) with the intent to deprive the lender of its interest in the property. The charge, a felony, was followed by the issuance of a warrant for Anderson's arrest. Several months later Anderson was arrested in Missouri. After waiving extradition, he was driven to Illinois by Montgomery County Sheriff James Vazzi and Special Agent Michael Sheeley of the Illinois State Police, two more defendants in this case. Back in Illinois, apparently after stewing in jail for 26 days, Anderson was released from custody after his father posted bail on his behalf.
Attorney (and yes, defendant) Samuel Panos represented Anderson on the theft charge, and Kathryn Dobrinic, another defendant, prosecuted the case for Montgomery County. The parties negotiated what would appear to be a good deal; a plea of guilty to a lesser charge of theft under $300, a misdemeanor in Illinois. On January 12, 1995, Anderson signed a document entitled "Jury Waiver and Plea of Guilty," admitting his guilt on the charge, as well as a document entitled "Judgment and Sentence/Conditional Discharge," which set out the penalty he received -- 26 days incarceration (fully offset by the 26 days he spent in jail) and 24 months conditional discharge, a fine of $1,000, and restitution totaling $6,930.72 to the two banks. Part of the restitution was satisfied out of the bail money posted by Anderson's father. The state court conviction, to this day, has not been vacated.
Anderson feels that his guilty plea in the case was coerced by Panos and Dobrinic. He admits he signed the guilty plea document but claims he never appeared before a judge to be informed of his rights. This assertion, though, is drawn into serious question by the existence of a court transcript in which "Benjamin Anderson" (a/k/a Blaylock or Cain), represented by Attorney Samuel Panos, is questioned on the record, enters a guilty plea, and receives a sentence. Anderson claims that the transcript was fabricated by Panos, Dobrinic, and a court reporter (he does not allege that the state court judge participated in the false-transcript scheme). Anderson's contention on this point is supported by four affidavits (his, his father's, and two friends'), which say he was outside the courtroom having a cigarette at the time indicated on the transcript, so he could not have been in court.
On February 2, 1996, Attorney Kahn filed this federal lawsuit for Anderson, suing everybody in sight. The rambling, 28-page, first amended complaint alleged constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. secs. 1983 and 1985 and state law claims for false arrest and imprisonment and reckless conduct against Montgomery County; Attorney Dobrinic in her individual and official capacities; Sheriff Vazzi in his individual and official capacities; Boatmen's and its attorney, Long; Illini Bank; Panos; Sheeley individually; and one other party who, prior to appeal, was dismissed from the case. The amended complaint accused the defendants of participating in a massive conspiracy to coerce his guilty plea and cause him mental anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment.
Anderson was not bashful about seeking damages for the wrongs he says were visited upon him. For his sec. 1983 claim alone he sought, in his own words, judgment against Defendant, Montgomerey County, Illinois, for actual damages in the reasonable sum of One Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($150,000.00), and against Defendant, Montgomerey County, Illinois, for punitive damages in the reasonable sum of One Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($150,000.00), and against Defendant, Kathryn Dobrinic, for actual damages in the reasonable sum of One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00), and against Defendant, Kathryn Dobrinic, for punitive damages in the reasonable sum of One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00), and against Defendant, Michael Scheeley, for actual damages in the reasonable sum of One Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars, (1,500,000.00), and against Defendant, Michael Scheeley, for punitive damages in the reasonable sum of Three Million Dollars ($3,000,000.00), and against Defendant, Kelly D. Long, for actual damages in the reasonable sum of Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000.00), and against Defendant, Kelly D. Long, for punitive damages in the reasonable sum of Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000.00), and against Defendant, James Vazzi, for actual damages in the reasonable sum of Twenty Five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00), and against Defendant, James Vazzi, for punitive damages in the reasonable sum of Twenty Five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00), and against Defendant, Case Credit, a Division of J. I. Case, a Tenneco Company, for actual damages in the reasonable sum of One Million Dollars ($1,000,000.00), and against Defendant, Case Credit, a Division of J. I. Case, a Tenneco Company, for punitive damages in the reasonable sum of Two Million Dollars ($2,000,000.00) . . . .
These rather shameless requests, totaling $10,850,000, were then joined with other demands -- all painfully laid out as to each defendant -- on other causes of action. The grand total Anderson sought was more than a half a billion dollars.
Although not included in the actual recitation of claims, interpreting the amended complaint in Anderson's favor, various factual assertions additionally accuse someone in Missouri of denying him a right to counsel before being extradited, Sheeley of conducting an illegal search of Anderson's residence, and Sheeley and Vazzi of recklessly endangering Anderson's life by driving 95 miles an hour in a squad car while transporting him from Missouri to Illinois after he waived extradition.
The defendants moved for dismissal or summary judgment. Attorney Kahn requested and was given numerous extensions (at least 10, it appears) of time to reply to the motions, several because of an injury he apparently suffered in March 1996. Eventually Kahn's responses filtered into the court over a one-week period. In his May 13, 1996, responses to some of the motions to dismiss, Anderson, via Kahn, first raised the idea that Anderson never appeared before a judge for sentencing and that the transcript indicating that he did so was a fake, as well as an assertion that Sheeley and Dobrinic misled the grand jury in securing the original indictment. At this point, Kahn still insisted there were valid claims under sec. 1985, even though he "reluctantly admit[ted] that the cases cited by the Defendant's [sic] do support [the] proposition" that such claims failed because there was no racial or class-based discrimination against Anderson, who is a white male. The next day, after apparently doing some research, Kahn realized he had to abandon claims against some of the defendants. On May 14 he filed motions to dismiss Montgomery County and Long completely, as well as Dobrinic and Vazzi in their official capacities.
Shortly after Kahn's filings the district court granted the defendants' motions to dismiss (properly treated as summary judgment motions) and for summary judgment. Several parties then moved for Rule 11 sanctions against Attorney Kahn. After a hearing, the district ...