United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
January 28, 2004.
RODOLFO D. ESPINOZA, Plaintiff,
NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUZANNE CONLON, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Northwestern University ("Northwestern") hired Rodolfo Espinoza as a
law library assistant on June 14, 1999. Northwestern terminated Espinoza
just six months later, in December 1999. Espinoza filed a pro se
complaint in federal court, alleging that Northwestern, the Illinois
Department of Human Rights, and the Chicago Police Department conspired
to violate his civil rights. He also alleged Northwestern discriminated
against him because he is Mexican-American, Ultimately, only Espinoza's
Title VII claims reached summary judgment And those claims proved
baseless: this court granted Northwestern summary judgment on Espinoza's
discrimination and retaliation claims. Minute Order, 7/24/2003, Doc. No.
54. The case was then referred to a magistrate judge for a report and
recommendation on Northwestern's motion for sanctions under Fed.R. Civ.
P. 11 and the court's inherent authority. Minute Order, 7/25/2003, Doc.
No. 56. After an evidentiary hearing, the magistrate judge recommended
Northwestern's motion for sanctions be granted and that sanctions be
imposed against Espinoza in the amount of $5,000. Minute Order, 11/19/03,
Doc. No. 66. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Espinoza objects to the
magistrate's recommendation to award sanctions.
The centerpiece of Espinoza's lawsuit is a group of documents he claims
to have received anonymously. Espinoza does not challenge the magistrate
judge's findings of fact, he merely asserts that he has no "firsthand
knowledge of the origins" of the documents at issue. Thus, the court
adopts the magistrate's factual findings. Lowe v. SRA/IBM Macmillan
Pension Plan, No. 01 C 58, 2003 WL 1565841, at *1 (N.D. Ill. March
25, 2003). The documents came in three sets. The first two sets purported
to be letters and memoranda among Espinoza's supervisors and Northwestern
officials regarding Espinoza's job performance and the reasons for his
dismissal. The third set of documents purports to be a series of
communications among senior Northwestern officials implicating
Northwestern, the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and the Chicago
Police Department in a criminal conspiracy to violate Espinoza's
constitutional rights. The letters detail alleged assaults on Espinoza's
nephew, the fire-bombing of Espinoza's home, and tampering with public
Espinoza first sought to introduce these documents in an action before
the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Northwestern moved to bar the
documents. Northwestern supported its motion with affidavits of the
putative authors and recipients denying the documents' authenticity.
Northwestern also offered the expert opinion of a forensic document
examiner who concluded the documents' signatures were cut and pasted.
Espinoza did not object to the motions to strike and they were granted.
Espinoza then withdrew his Illinois Department of Human Rights case. He
attempted to use the documents in connection with a public hearing in
which he subsequently refused to participate.
Espinoza then brought his claims and documents to federal court.
Espinoza accused his supervisors of national origin discrimination and he
alleged Northwestern officials conspired with the Illinois Department of
Human Rights and the Chicago Police Department to intimidate and harass
him. Espinoza relied on the anonymous documents as the foundation for his
federal lawsuit. The documents were attached to his complaint and his
three amended complaints. The documents, as well as a handwritten log
detailing the discrimination he suffered at Northwestern, were produced
in his Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures. At his deposition, Espinoza testified
that he understood his filings with this court must be true and accurate.
Pre-trial discovery demonstrated that the documents and the handwritten
log were not authentic. The magistrate judge found Espinoza's deposition
contained many disturbing admissions. Espinoza conceded that the
affidavits of the purported Northwestern authors and recipients of the
anonymous documents denying authenticity were probably true. He
acknowledged that the first two sets of documents were inherently suspect
and likely forgeries. Espinoza admitted he had no plans to authenticate
the documents and that he had never investigated their authenticity
before incorporating them into his signed pleadings. Espinoza attempted
to enlist the help of a journalist and the Law Assistance Foundation but
was rebuffed because both questioned the authenticity of the documents.
The magistrate judge also found that the circumstances surrounding
Espinoza's receipt of the anonymous documents were suspicious. In his
purported document log, Espinoza labeled the first set of documents as
the "first set" before he received the other two sets of
documents in the mail. Espinoza's handwritten log also aroused suspicion.
Espinoza "discovered" the log only when he filed suit in federal court.
Moreover, Northwestern's ink chemist determined that the
log was prepared within 12 to 16.5 months prior to the lawsuit, not
during Espinoza's employment at Northwestern almost three years earlier.
The magistrate judge found that Espinoza acted in bad faith and
recommended an award of sanctions pursuant to Rule 11, For the most part,
Espinoza's objections merely recount the facts supporting the magistrate
judge's recommendation. See Pl's Obj. at ¶¶ 7, 10 (admits the
documents are forged and incredible). However, Espinoza presents two
cognizable objections. First, he denies any involvement in the actual
forgery of the documents. Pl's Obj. at ¶¶ 14, 20-21. Second, he
asserts Northwestern's motion for sanctions should be denied because he
lacks the ability to pay. Id. at ¶¶ 15-18.
I. Legal Standard
In reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the
district court must conduct a de novo review of any portion of
the record to which a specific written objection is directed.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). However, the district court is not required to conduct
another hearing to review the magistrate's findings and credibility
determinations. Goffman v. Gross, 59 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir.
1995). Rather, the district court may accept, reject, or modify the
II. Espinoza's Objections
Initially, the court notes that Espinoza's objections do not comply
with Rule 72. He failed to submit the magistrate judge's recommendation
with his motion. Furthermore, his objections are untimely. Under Rule 72,
Espinoza had 10 days after service of the report and recommendation to
file his objections. Kruger v. Apfel, 214 F.3d 784, 786-87 (7th
The magistrate judge notified Espinoza of his decision at the November
19, 2003 hearing, orally stating his recommendation. The minute order
reflecting the decision was mailed to Espinoza the same day. Accordingly,
Espinoza's specific written objections were due December 10, 2003.
See Kruger, 214 F.3d at 786-87 (10 days plus 3 days for mailed
notice, excluding weekends and holidays). Espinoza did not file his
objections until January 7, 2004. However, the deadline for filing
objections is not jurisdictional. But Espinoza must demonstrate
sufficient cause for failing to timely object. United States v.
Raymond, 228 F.3d 804, 810 (7th Cir. 2000); Hunger v.
Leininger, 15 F.3d 664, 668 (7th Cir. 1994). Espinoza claims his
delinquency should be excused for two reasons: (1) because he never
received a copy of the magistrate judge's order; and (2) because of "the
many changes in [his] personal and work related environments." Espinoza
Aff. at ¶¶ 4-7. Espinoza does not support these conclusory arguments.
Given Espinoza's reckless approach to this litigation, the court finds
his statements dubious. See, e.g., Minute Order 9/26/03, Doc.
No. 65 (he failed to appear at status hearing); Minute Order 7/24/03,
Doc. No. 54 (he failed to respond to Northwestern's motion for summary
judgment); Minute Order 7/09/03, Doc. No. 50 (denying his spurious,
unsworn attack on court appointed counsel as incredible). Nevertheless,
the court considers Espinoza's objections. The filing was not egregiously
late and Northwestern has not shown prejudice because of Espinoza's late
filing. Kruger, 214 F.3d at 787.
Espinoza's first objection, that he neither knew the identity of the
forgers nor forged the documents himself, misses the point. Rule 11(b)
requires an attorney or party to certify to the best of his "knowledge,
information and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the
circumstances," that any pleading filed with the court is not presented
for an improper purpose,
and that all claims have legal and evidentiary support. Jimenez v.
Madison Area Technical College, 321 F.3d 652, 656 (7th Cir. 2003).
Under Rule 11(c), a district court may impose sanctions on a party for
filing false or frivolous pleadings. Id. at 656; Fries v.
Helsper, 146 F.3d 452, 458 (7th Cir. 1998); Chambers v.
Nasco, 501 U.S. 32, 50-51, 111 S.Ct. 2123, 2136 (1991). Turning to
Espinoza's objection, it is immaterial whether he forged the documents
himself or knew the identity of the forger. Espinoza is subject to
sanction because he knowingly filed pleadings without evidentiary
support. As the magistrate judge explained, there was ample evidence
in the record including Espinoza's own deposition
demonstrating that Espinoza knew the documents were at best
unreliable, and that he took no steps to authenticate them. Despite
numerous opportunities to withdraw his groundless accusations,
Espinoza continued to file these falsified documents with the court.
Accordingly, imposition of sanctions is warranted.
Espinoza contends that the "University's claims that [he] is the forger
and attempting to perpetrate a deliberate fraud . . . [are] not
founded on credible facts." Pl's Obj. at ¶ 14. This is not a
specific, written objection as required by Rule 72(b). Moreover, the
record and Espinoza's admissions belie the accuracy of the statement. The
record overwhelmingly suggests the documents are forgeries. In fact,
nothing in the record suggests the anonymous documents deserve an ounce
of credence. Both the purported authors and recipients of the documents
deny their validity in uncontroverted affidavits, and Espinoza admits he
made no effort to confirm the documents' authenticity. His objection has
Espinoza argues that sanctions are inappropriate because he lacks the
ability to pay. Pl's Obj. at ¶¶ 15-18. This argument was not presented
to the magistrate judge. Nevertheless, on de novo review, this
court must consider Espinoza's financial constraints. Financial means are
equitable consideration when sanctions are imposed under Rule 11.
Johnson v. A. W. Chesterton Co., 18 F.3d 1362, 1366 (7th Cir.
1994). The burden is on the sanctioned party to show he is incapable of
paying a reasonable award. Id. at 1366. Espinoza fails to meet
his burden. He neglected to brief the issue; it is merely mentioned in
his affidavit. Moreover, Espinoza fails to provide a statement of his
current income, assets and liabilities. Cf. McGill v. Faulkner,
18 F.3d 456, 459 (7th Cir. 1994) (income statement required to show
inability tp pay costs under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)). Indeed, an award of
$5,000 is sensitive to Espinoza's financial resources; Northwestern spent
over $10,000 in legal fees and over $5,000 in expert fees to establish
Espinoza's documents were forged. Accordingly, this court adopts the
recommended $5,000 sanction.
One last point is worth mentioning. The magistrate judge recommended
that the sanction be awarded in favor of Northwestern. Because
Rule 11 sanctions are designed to deter frivolous litigation rather than to
compensate defendants, monetary sanctions are ordinarily paid to the
court. Divane v. Krull Elec. Co., Inc., 200 F.3d 1020, 1030-31
(7th Cir. 1999), citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 11, 1993 Amendment Advisory
Committee's Note, Subdivisions (b) and (c). Espinoza's malicious
allegations produced unwarranted delay. His repeated attempts to revive
failed claims needlessly increased the cost of litigation. Fed.R. Civ.
P. 11(b)(1). Accordingly, an award in favor of Northwestern is fully
Espinoza's objections to the magistrate judge's report and
recommendation are overruled. The court adopts the report and
recommendation and imposes Rule 11 sanctions against Espinoza in the
amount of $5,000.
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