“Sanction” is a penalty or punishment provided as a means of enforcing obedience to a law. thelawdictionary.org
The Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure, that all attorneys and parties have to abide by in litigation, include a specific rule that an attorney or a party may NOT file a motion that is frivolous or for the purpose of harassment or delay. M.R.C.P 11.
“Frivolous” means a claim or defense made ‘without hope of success.’” See In re Spencer, 985 So. 2d 330, 338 (Miss. 2008). M.R.C.P 11
(b) Sanctions…For wilful violation of this rule an attorney may be subjected to appropriate disciplinary action. Similar action may be taken if scandalous or indecent matter is inserted. If any party files a motion or pleading which, in the opinion of the court, is frivolous or is filed for the purpose of harassment or delay, the court may order such a party, or his attorney, or both, to pay to the opposing party or parties the reasonable expenses incurred by such other parties and by their attorneys, including reasonable attorneys’ fees. [Amended effective March 13, 1991; amended effective January 16, 2003] M.R.C.P 11
Rule 11 provides two alternative grounds for the imposition of sanctions—the filing of a frivolous motion or pleading, and the filing of a motion or pleading for the purpose of harassment or delay. See Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Evans, 553 So. 2d 1117, 1120 (Miss. 1989). M.R.C.P 11
Although a finding of bad faith is necessary to sustain the imposition of sanctions based on purposeful harassment or delay, a finding of bad faith is not necessary to sustain the imposition of sanctions based upon frivolous pleadings or motions. M.R.C.P. 11.
A pleading is “frivolous” if its “insufficiency…is so manifest upon a bare inspection of the pleadings, that the court or judge is able to determine its character without argument or research.” In re Estate of Smith, 69 So. 3d 1, 6 (Miss. 2011). M.R.C.P 11
Sanctions against a party are improper in cases where the party relied strictly on advice of counsel and could not be expected to know whether the complaint was supported by law, where the party relied on advice of counsel in filing the pleading and played no significant role in prosecution of the action; or where the party was unaware and lacked responsibility for any bad faith harassment or delay. See Stevens v. Lake, 615 So. 2d 1177, 1184 (Miss. 1993). M.R.C.P 11
Let Rule 11 serve as a warning against filing things you know are untrue and/or that you cannot prove.
Matthew Thompson is a Chancery Court attorney in Mississippi and doesn’t often seek sanctions, but does when it’s warranted.