The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOEL A. PISANO
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
On October 30, 1989, plaintiff Robert Giangrasso, then a student at Kittatinny Regional High School, was serving an in-school suspension arising out of a behavioral problem. He was under the supervision of Harriet Kesselman, a teacher employed by the Kittatinny Regional High School. When Ms. Kesselman observed that plaintiff was sleeping, she awoke him. Plaintiff threatened to punch her in the head.
Ms. Kesselman notified Assistant Principal Susan Kappler, who brought plaintiff to her office and said she would investigate the incident after listening to plaintiff's version of the facts, which differed from Ms. Kesselman's only in that plaintiff maintained she had jerked his head back to awaken him. Ms. Kappler spoke with Ms. Kesselman and with the students who had been in the classroom at the time of the incident, who confirmed that Ms. Kesselman had merely touched defendant.
In an informal hearing in her office, Ms. Kappler confronted plaintiff with the evidence against him and informed him that he would be suspended for five days. Immediately after conducting the hearing, Ms. Kappler called plaintiff's mother, Ronna Jones, and explained what had happened. Additionally, when plaintiff's step-father, Floyd Jones, came to school to bring plaintiff home, Ms. Kappler had a meeting with both Mr. Jones and plaintiff in which she explained the charges against plaintiff, the evidence, and the reasons for plaintiff's suspension.
Having been notified of plaintiff's suspension and the surrounding circumstances, on October 30, 1989 plaintiff's Child Study Team decided that he should be placed on homebound instruction. On November 1, 1989, plaintiff was placed on homebound instruction, pending the result of a psychiatric review. The Kittatinny staff accommodated Ms. Jones by assigning the tutor she requested.
On December 20, 1989, plaintiff's Child Study Team mailed to Ms. Jones plaintiff's Individualized Education Plan ("I.E.P."). The I.E.P. terminated plaintiff's homebound instruction, effective January 7, 1990, and directed that plaintiff be returned to mainstream schooling. At a meeting with Kittatinny staff on May 25, 1990, Ms. Jones agreed that plaintiff should undergo homebound instruction for the remainder of the 1989-1990 school year. Ms. Jones also agreed to review information concerning four other potential special education placements for plaintiff.
After Ms. Jones rejected these placements, and determined that she did not want plaintiff placed in a school for the emotionally disturbed, the Kittatinny staff offered three other special education programs at public high schools in the region. Plaintiff was accepted at High Point Regional High School in a special education program with a work-study component. Ms. Jones agreed to the placement and to the work-study component.
On September 1, 1990, Mr. Gaffney filed a petition on behalf of plaintiff with the Office of Administrative Law ("OAL"), complaining of plaintiff's placement at High Point Regional High School. All matters raised in the petition were settled on February 15, 1991, and the petition was withdrawn. Plaintiff eventually returned to Kittatinny Regional High School, from which he thereafter graduated on June 28, 1993.
Mr. Gaffney filed the complaint in the present matter on October 28, 1991, naming as defendants the Kittatinny Regional High School Board of Education; Ms. Kappler; Ms. Kesselman; Superintendent Robert Walker; Child Study Team Supervisor Donna Greene; and school psychologist Robert Ferrari. Plaintiff claimed that he had been suspended prior to receiving oral notice of the charges and evidence against him and was not presented with an opportunity to rebut the evidence, contrary to Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 95 S. Ct. 729, 42 L. Ed. 2d 725 (1975). Plaintiff alleged that certain defendants conspired to fraudulently convince his mother to place him in a school for the emotionally disturbed. In many respects, the complaint, which sought compensatory relief, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees, reiterated claims that had been withdrawn in connection with the OAL proceeding.
On August 20, 1993 defendants filed for summary judgment and for Rule 11 sanctions against Mr. Gaffney. Mr. Gaffney did not file opposition to defendants' motion. Defendants' version of the facts, which is deemed admitted because plaintiff did not oppose the motion, revealed that: (1) on October 30, 1989, plaintiff admitted that he was sleeping in class and that he threatened to punch his teacher and (2) plaintiff was afforded two hearings on October 30, 1989, both of which were more than sufficient under Goss. Moreover, the facts established that plaintiff never attended a school for the emotionally disturbed, thus rendering him unable to prove the necessary element of damages in his civil rights conspiracy claim.
Accordingly, on November 3, 1993, Judge Sarokin granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and imposed Rule 11 sanctions on Mr. Gaffney.
Prior to its recent amendment, Rule 11 provided that:
The signature of an attorney . . . constitutes a certificate by the signer that the signer has read the pleading, motion, or other paper; that to the best of the signer's knowledge, information, and belief formed after a reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and that it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass . . . .
Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.
Rule 11 "imposes on counsel a duty to look before leaping and may be seen as a litigation version of the familiar railroad crossing admonition to 'stop, look, and listen.'" Lieb v. Topstone Indus. Inc., 788 F.2d 151, 157 (3d Cir. 1986). When deciding whether to impose sanctions under Rule 11, a district court must evaluate the reasonableness of the signer's conduct at the time the pleading, motion, or other paper was submitted. Dura Systems, Inc. v. Rothbury Investments, Ltd., 886 F.2d 551 (3d Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1046, 110 S. Ct. 844, 107 L. Ed. 2d 838 (1990).
The Third Circuit recognized in Doering v. Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, 857 F.2d 191, 194 (3d Cir. 1988) that the primary purpose of Rule 11 is to deter abuses of the legal system. Although a court may not impose a sanction that is punitive or that might drive an attorney out of practice, id., the sanction imposed should be "'the minimum that will serve to adequately deter the undesired behavior,'" id. at 196 (quoting Eastway Construction Corp. v. City of New York, 637 F. Supp. 558, 565 (E.D.N.Y. 1986), cert. denied. 484 U.S. 918, 108 S. Ct. 269, 98 L. Ed. 2d 226 (1987)).
In Lieb, 778 F.2d at 158, the Third Circuit emphasized the discretion of the district court in tailoring an appropriate sanction:
Langer v. Monarch Life Insurance Co., 966 F.2d 786, 810 (3d Cir. 1992), the Third Circuit reiterated the broad scope of this discretion:
the district court retains broad discretion in determining the "appropriate" sanction under the rule. What is "appropriate" may be a warm friendly discussion on the record, a hard-nosed reprimand in open court, compulsory legal education, monetary sanctions, or other measures appropriate to the circumstances. Whatever the ultimate sanction imposed, the district court should utilize the sanction that furthers the purposes of Rule 11 and is the least severe sanction adequate to such purpose.
The recently amended Rule 11 incorporates these holdings and provides in pertinent part that:
(b) Representations to Court. By presenting to the court (whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating) a pleading, written motion, or other paper, an attorney or unrepresented party is certifying that to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and ...