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Contempt & Inherent Power of a Court

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  • Legalbear
    [57] As we have noted, the district court relied on its inherent powers to levy sanctions against Munson. It has long been understood that certain implied
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6, 2006

      [57]     As we have noted, the district court relied on its inherent powers to levy sanctions against Munson. "It has long been understood that certain implied powers must necessarily result to our Courts of justice from the nature of their institution, powers which cannot be dispensed with in a Court, because they are necessary to the exercise of all others." Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43, 111 S. Ct. 2123, 2132 (1991) (internal quotations and brackets omitted). Accordingly, "[c]courts of justice are universally acknowledged to be vested, by their very creation, with power to impose silence, respect, and decorum, in their presence, and submission to their lawful mandates." Id. (internal quotations omitted); see also Byrne v. Nezhat, 261 F.3d 1075, 1131-32 n.110 (11th Cir. 2001) (providing overview of the inherent powers lodged in Article III courts). This means, among other things, "that a federal court has the power to control admission to its bar and to discipline attorneys who appear before it." Chambers, 501 U.S. at 43, 111 S. Ct. at 2132; see also Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 766, 100 S. Ct. 2455, 2464 (1980) (noting that "[t]he power of a court over members of its bar is at least as great as its authority over litigants"). That is, "[e]ven absent explicit legislative enactment, deeply rooted in the common law tradition is the power of any court . . . to impose reasonable and appropriate sanctions upon errant lawyers practicing before it." Carlucci v. Piper Aircraft Corp., 775 F.2d 1440, 1447 (11th Cir. 1985) (internal quotations omitted). This "inherent power" to sanction errant lawyers, in fact, "can be invoked even if procedural rules exist which sanction the same conduct." Chambers, 501 U.S. at 49, 111 S. Ct. at 2135; see also In re Mroz, 65 F.3d at 1575 (pointing out that "although certain conduct may or may not be violative of Rule 11 or Bankruptcy Rule 9011, it does not necessarily mean that a party will escape sanctions under the court's inherent power").



      [58]     Due to the scope of the inherent powers vested in federal courts, however, it is necessary that such courts "exercise caution in invoking [their] inherent power." Chambers, 501 U.S. at 50, 111 S. Ct. at 2136. Hence, before a court can impose sanctions against a lawyer under its inherent power, it must find that the lawyer's conduct "constituted or was tantamount to bad faith." Durrett v. Jenkins Brickyard, Inc., 678 F.2d 911, 918 (11th Cir. 1982); see also Barnes v. Dalton , 158 F.3d 1212, 1214 (11th Cir. 1998) ("The key to unlocking a court's inherent power is a finding of bad faith."). "A finding of bad faith is warranted where an attorney knowingly or recklessly raises a frivolous argument, or argues a meritorious claim for the purpose of harassing an opponent. A party also demonstrates bad faith by delaying or disrupting the litigation or hampering enforcement of a court order." Barnes, 158 F.3d at 1214 (internal quotations omitted). Additionally, for the imposition of sanctions to be proper, a court "must comply with the mandates of due process," Chambers, 501 U.S. at 50, 111 S. Ct. at 2136, meaning that the lawyer facing sanctions must be provided with notice and "an opportunity to respond, orally or in writing, to the invocation of such sanctions and to justify his actions." In re Mroz, 65 F.3d at 1575-76. Thomas v. Tenneco Packaging Co., Inc., 293 F.3d 1306 (11th Cir. 06/13/2002)





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