July 01, 2011

House Panel Approves Bill to Amend Rule 11 to Mandate Attorney Sanctions

The House Judiciary Committee has approved, on a July 7 party-line vote of 20-13, legislation opposed by the ABA to amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to reinstate a mandatory sanctions provision that was eliminated in 1993 because it was counterproductive and harmful to the resolution of civil litigation.

H.R. 966, known as the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, would require sanctions against attorneys who bring non-meritorious claims and defenses, which bill proponents claim have skyrocketed. The bill would require, rather than permit, the imposition of monetary sanctions, consisting of attorneys’ fee and other costs resulting from the violation, and eliminate a provision adopted in 1993 that allows parties and their attorneys to avoid sanctions by withdrawing frivolous claims within 21 days after a motion for sanctions is served.

In a June 1 letter to the committee, the ABA noted that, despite the elimination of provisions in prior bills that would have applied Rule 11 to civil actions brought in state courts and imposed venue requirements under certain circumstances, the association still considers the bill to be ill-advised and unnecessary for three main reasons.

First, the legislation would circumvent the Rules Enabling Act, a process established by Congress to ensure that changes to the federal rules are thoroughly reviewed.

Second, the ABA believes that the proposed revisions are unnecessary and counterproductive, stating that there is no demonstrated evidence that the existing Rule 11 is inadequate or needs to be amended.  The association disagrees with the assertion that there has been a significant increase in the filing of non-meritorious litigation in the 18 years since Rule 11 was revised to permit the discretionary imposition of sanctions.

Third, the legislation ignores the lessons learned from the 10 years that the mandatory version of Rule 11 was in place from 1983 through 1993, according to the ABA. During that time, an entire industry of litigation revolving around Rule 11 claims inundated the legal system and wasted valuable court resources and time, the letter stated.

“The ABA is not aware of any compelling evidence that there is a demonstrable need to revise Rule 11 or that the proposed amendment would remedy alleged problems,” according to the correspondence.

There has been no action on a Senate version of the legislation, S. 533.

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