Wednesday, April 27, 2005

District Judges Surveyed re Rule 11 Sanctions

[RESEARCH] What do federal district judges think of Rule 11? The Federal Judicial Center surveyed them -- see Report of a Survey of United States District Judges' Experiences and Views Concerning Rule 11, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (2005).

Why the survey now?

In the 108th Congress, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4571, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2004, which would have amended Rule 11. That bill would have provided for mandatory sanctions for violations, repealed the safe harbor, and required judges to order the offending lawyer or party to compensate the opposing party for attorney fees incurred as a direct result of a Rule 11 violation. The proposed legislation would have reversed three amendments to Rule 11 adopted through the rulemaking process in 1993: to convert mandatory sanctions to discretionary sanctions, to create a safe harbor, and to deemphasize attorney fee awards. The proposed legislation also would have introduced a requirement that a district court suspend an attorney’s license to practice in that district for one year if the attorney was found to have violated Rule 11 three or more times in that district.
Id. at 1.

Among other things, the survey tried to elicit judges' views based on their experience with the 1993 amendments.
More than 80% of the 278 district judges indicated that “Rule 11 is needed and it is just right as it now stands.” In evaluating the alternatives, 87% of the respondents preferred the current Rule 11, 5% preferred the version in effect between 1983 and 1993, and 4% preferred the version proposed in H.R. 4571.

Id. at 2.

Do the judges think that groundless litigation is a big problem?

Approximately 85% of the district judges view groundless litigation [in cases where the plaintiff is represented by counsel] as no more than a small problem and another 12% see such litigation as a moderate problem. About 3% view groundless litigation brought by plaintiffs who are represented by counsel as a large or very large problem. For 54% of the judges who responded, the amount of groundless litigation has remained relatively constant during their tenure on the federal bench. Only 7% indicated that the problem is now larger. For 19%, the amount of groundless civil litigation has decreased during their tenure on the federal bench, and for 12% there has never been a problem.
Id. at 3.

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