The House passed legislation by a 230-188 vote March 10 to require mandatory monetary sanctions against lawyers who file non-meritorious lawsuits.
The ABA-opposed bill, H.R. 720, would amend Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by rolling back critical improvements made to the rule in 1993 and reinstating a mandatory sanction provision that was adopted in 1983 but eliminated 10 years later after experience revealed its unintended, adverse consequences. The legislation also would eliminate the “safe harbor” provision added in 1993 that allows parties and their attorney to avoid Rule 11 sanctions by withdrawing frivolous claims within 21 days after a motion for sanctions is served.
During debate on the bill, proponents maintained that the current lack of mandatory sanctions leads to the regular filing of baseless lawsuits. The House rejected several proposed amendments, including one that would have restored the safe harbor provision.
In a March 7 letter to the House, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman emphasized that there is neither evidence that the proposed changes to Rule 11 are needed nor that they would deter the filing of non-meritorious lawsuits.
“Even though this legislation may seem straightforward and appealing on initial review, a thorough examination of the concerns the bill is designed to address provides compelling evidence that, rather than reducing frivolous lawsuits, H.R. 720 will encourage civil litigation abuse and increase court costs and delays,” he wrote.
Susman stressed that the ABA also opposes the legislation because it would bypass the Rule Enabling Act process established by Congress to assure that amendment of the federal rules occurs only after a comprehensive and balanced review of the problem and proposed solution is undertaken by the Judicial Conference of the United States.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who expressed her opposition to the bill on the House floor, highlighted the ABA’s letter, which was reprinted in the Congressional Record along with a letter from more than 40 other organizations focusing on the adverse impact the bill would have on civil rights, employment, environmental and consumer cases.