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Green v. Arizona Board of Regents

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 17, 2019

Matthew F. Green, Plaintiff,
v.
Arizona Board of Regents, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE STEVEN P. LOGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 11(c). (Doc. 25) Having carefully reviewed the motion and response, this Court's ruling is as follows.

         I. Background

         This case was initially filed in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and Defendants removed the case to this Court on December 13, 2018. (Doc. 1) On December 20, 2018, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing Plaintiff's complaint failed to state any plausible claims for relief. (Doc. 6) Defendants also submitted a notice of certification stating that they attempted to meet and confer with Plaintiff about the deficiencies in the complaint, but Plaintiff was unresponsive. (Doc. 7) Prior to responding to the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint on January 3, 2019. (Docs. 17, 20) On January 10, 2019, Plaintiff responded to the Motion to Dismiss, arguing that the attempt to meet and confer was disingenuous because Defendants only offered Plaintiff two days to meet before filing the motion. (Doc. 11 at 1-2)

         On March 6, 2019, Defendants filed a Motion for Sanctions pursuant to FRCP 11 (“Rule 11”). (Doc. 25) Defendants argued that Plaintiff's complaint was plagiarized from a compliant in a different lawsuit and that Plaintiff made false statements in response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 25 at 8-9) Plaintiff responded on May 3, 2019, asserting that sanctions were not warranted because Defendants knew that Plaintiff intended to amend the complaint weeks before Defendants filed their Motion for Sanctions. (Doc. 38 at 2) Plaintiff further argued that he inadvertently included irrelevant language from another lawsuit in his complaint, but the mistake was not a basis for Rule 11 sanctions. (Doc. 38 at 4)

         On May 21, 2019, this Court denied Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint for failure to follow Local Rule of Civil Procedure 15.1. (Doc. 42) However, the Court's Order stated that Plaintiff could file a revised motion for leave to amend the complaint by May 28, 2019. (Doc. 42 at 2) Plaintiff timely filed a Second Motion to Amend the Complaint. (Doc. 43) On July 22, 2019, the Court found good cause to grant Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint pursuant to FRCP 16(b)(4).[1] (Doc. 54 at 2) In the same Order, the Court denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as moot without prejudice. (Doc. 54 at 3) The same day, Plaintiff filed the First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 55)

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard for Imposing Sanctions Under Rule 11

         Courts may impose sanctions when a filing is frivolous, legally unreasonable, without factual foundation, or is brought for an improper purpose. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)-(c). However, courts must “exercise extreme caution” when imposing Rule 11 sanctions and should only order sanctions in rare and exceptional circumstances. Larez v. Holcomb, 16 F.3d 1513, 1522 (9th Cir. 1994). Courts are required to balance competing interests when deciding to impose Rule 11 sanctions, namely “the desire to avoid abusive use of the judicial process and to avoid chilling zealous advocacy.” Hudson v. Moore Bus. Forms, Inc., 836 F.2d 1156, 1159-60 (9th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted).

         B. The Complaint

         Defendants contend that sanctions are warranted because Plaintiff made no effort to ensure that the allegations made in the complaint were based on facts as applied to Plaintiff's specific circumstances, and he instead plagiarized portions of a complaint filed against Defendants in a different civil action. (Doc. 25 at 6-7) In response, Plaintiff asserts that sanctions are not warranted because his inclusion of irrelevant allegations in the original complaint was unintentional. Plaintiff further asserts that Defendants were made aware of his intent to amend the inapplicable language on January 22, 2019, which was over a month before Defendants filed their Motion for Sanctions. (Doc. 38 at 2)

         When a complaint is the focus of Rule 11 proceedings, a district court must find that 1) the complaint is legally or factually baseless from an objective perspective, and 2) the attorney has not conducted a reasonable and competent inquiry before signing and filing the complaint. Holgate v. Baldwin, 425 F.3d 671, 676 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Christian v. Mattel, Inc., 286 F.3d 1118, 1127 (9th Cir. 2002)).

         1. Legal or Factual Basis for Filing the Complaint

         In their Motion for Sanctions, Defendants cite to eight paragraphs of Plaintiff's original complaint as being copied verbatim from the complaint in Unknown Party v. ABOR et al., No. 2:18-cv-01623-DWL (the “John Doe Complaint”). (Doc. 25 at 5-7) However, Defendants ...


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