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Owens v. Fleet Car Lease

June 18, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


I. Introduction

On November 19, 2009, Fleet Car Lease, Inc., removed James and Melissa Owens have brought suit against Fleet Car Lease, Inc. (FCL), Fleet Car Carriers, Inc., CCJ Auto Transport, Inc., Cottrell, Inc., and Unknown Defendants, alleging that Mr. Owens slipped and fell from a truck or "rig" that these Defendants placed into the stream of commerce. Plaintiffs claim that the rig was unreasonably dangerous and defective. They submit that, as a result of his fall, Mr. Owens sustained physical injuries resulting in, inter alia, severe pain and mental anguish, medical expenses and lost time from work. Mrs. Owens asserts a derivative claim for loss of consortium against Defendants.

On November 25, 2009, FCL moved to dismiss Count XI of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. 16). After full briefing, the Court granted the motion, concluding that, while willful and wanton misconduct may properly be alleged as a basis for liability against governmental entities, officials and employees, and may justify an award of punitive damages, it does not form the basis for an independent cause of action against Defendants. Accordingly, the Court granted FCL's motion to dismiss Count XI of the complaint. The Court also gave Plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint and replead their remaining causes of action if they determined that amendment was necessary to sufficiently allege willful and wanton conduct to support any particular damages theory. Memorandum and Order, Doc. 32.

Rather than complying with the Court's Order and amending their complaint to replead any of the remaining 10 counts to allege willful and wanton conduct, Plaintiffs copied verbatim their Count XI "Willful & Wanton" claim and recaptioned it "Negligence/Strict Liability."

FCL again moved to dismiss Count XI because it alleged an identical claim for relief to that previously dismissed by the Court (Doc. 51).

On March 15, 2010, the Court determined that in filing an amended complaint alleging claims for relief identical to those previously dismissed by the Court, Plaintiffs violated this Court's Order, violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2) and caused FCL to expend additional time and incur additional costs in moving to dismiss a claim that the Court had already dismissed. The Court concluded that a monetary sanction might be justified and that Plaintiffs' counsel might be required by the Court to personally satisfy such a sanction if FCL could show that Plaintiffs acted in bad faith or for the improper purpose of causing FCL to incur unnecessary litigation costs. The Court then ordered FCL to submit a memorandum setting forth the basis for a monetary sanction and a computation of the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees reasonably incurred because of Plaintiffs' counsel's conduct, including fees and costs for filing the required memorandum. The matter is now fully briefed and ready for disposition.

II. Analysis

Under Rule 11, district courts are empowered to exercise their discretion in imposing an "appropriate" sanction. Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp. 496 U.S. 384, 400 (1990). Indeed, the Court may on its own initiative "order an attorney, law firm, or party to show cause why conduct specifically described in the order has not violated Rule 11(b)." FED.R.CIV.P. 11(c)(3).


[b]y presenting to the court a pleading, written motion, or other paper-whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating it-an attorney or unrepresented party certifies 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, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation;

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

Rule 11(c)(1) states: "If, after notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond, the court determines that Rule 11(b) has been violated, the court may impose an appropriate sanction on any attorney, law firm, or party ...

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