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White v. Madison County

July 19, 2010

VERNON C. WHITE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MADISON COUNTY, ILLINOIS, CHIEF ROBERT HERTZ, CHIEF DEPUTY LAKIN, CAPT. JOSEPH GULASH, LT. HALLENBECK, DR. ROBERT BLANKENSHIP, IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, VILLAGE OF PONTOON BEACH, ILLINOIS, CHIEF CHARLIE LUEHMANN, LT. DANIEL ABEL, DET. RICHARD SCHARDAN, AND OFC. JOHN SIMMONS, IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITY AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

I. Introduction and Procedural Background

The above-captioned civil rights action was brought by Plaintiff Vernon C. White against 11 named Defendants, after Plaintiff was stopped and arrested by Pontoon Beach, Illinois, police officers and subsequently transported and housed at the Madison County Jail. In October 2009, Plaintiff dismissed all claims against the "Pontoon Beach defendants" (Docs. 109, 110). Approximately two weeks later, on the eve of trial, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the remaining claims against the "Madison County defendants" (Docs. 120, 121). The "Madison County defendants" - Madison County, Illinois, Sheriff Robert Hertz, Chief Deputy Lakin, Captain Joseph Gulash, Lieutenant Hallenbeck and Dr. Robert Blankenship - are now before the Court seeking an award of attorney's fees ($62,129.50), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and 28 U.S.C. § 1927 (Doc. 122).

Defendants note that Plaintiff consistently alleged that he was epileptic and took Tegretol and Dolophine daily to treat his seizures, and that because he was denied those medications while in custody, he suffered a grand mal seizure, injured his left occipital lobe and lost vision in his right eye (Doc. 2, pp. 5-6, ¶¶ 24-26; Doc. 75, pp. 5-6, ¶¶ 24-26). In essence, Defendants argue that they endured two amendments of the complaint and two years of vexatious discovery only to have Plaintiff dismiss the case on the eve of trial and after they learned that Plaintiff had apparently not taken anti-seizure medication for the 15-year period preceding his arrest and that he may never have been diagnosed with epilepsy. Defendants assert that, "had Plaintiff's attorney made a reasonable inquiry as to whether Plaintiff had medical evidence supporting his allegations, Defendants' costs in defending this suit could have been wholly avoided from the outset" (Doc. 122, p. 11). Defendants highlight that they lost a $650 deposit when they were forced to cancel the deposition of Dr. Robert Segal after confusion arose regarding whether Dr. Segal had ever treated Plaintiff, and after Plaintiff retracted a prior designation of Dr. Segal as a non-retained expert witness.

Plaintiff's counsel, Nelson L. Mitten, opposes the motion for attorney's fees, arguing:

1. The motion for Rule 11 sanctions is untimely;

2. Rule 11 is not a proper method for seeking sanctions for discovery violations; and

3. Sanctions are not warranted because

a. Mitten did not enter his appearance in the case until April 10, 2009, after the final amendment of the complaint, and after the various compulsion orders had been issued;

b. Shortly after Mitten's appearance in the case, requested discovery was produced and no additional motions to compel were filed by Plaintiff; and

c. The confusion regarding Dr. Segal was unavoidable, in that Dr. Segal initially denied having treated Plaintiff, only to later confirm that he had treated Plaintiff, and Plaintiff's counsel only learned on the eve of the deposition that Dr. Segal had no independent recollection of treating Plaintiff (Doc. 126).

II. Applicable Legal Standards

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 provides in pertinent part that, by presenting a pleading, written motion or other paper to the Court, an attorney "certifies that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances" that the pleading, motion or paper is not presented to harass or cause needless delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation, and the claims or other legal contentions are warranted, and 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).

Counsel's liability for excessive costs is also governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1927, which dictates that any attorney who "so multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses and attorney's fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct." 28 U.S.C. § 1927. By their very terms, both Rule 11 and Section 1927 are aimed at attorneys, not litigants (unless they are proceeding pro se), and whether to impose sanctions under either provision is left to the discretion of the District Court. Golden v. Helen Sigman & Associates, Ltd., -- F.3d ----, 2010 WL 2630598, at *5 (7th Cir. July 2, 2010) (re Rule 11); Jolly Group, Ltd. v. ...


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